“The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”: Excellent Documentary by Stephen Fry

11 Feb

Stephen Fry, the British actor best known in the States for his recurring role on the TV show Bones and his tasteful nude scene in Guy Ritchie’s last Sherlock Holmes movie, also happens to be bipolar. After being diagnosed at the age of 37, he sought understanding of his illness by reconnecting with people from his past and discussing his troubled youth in which he exhibited behaviors now recognizable as symptoms of mania, stealing and profligate spending being the standouts. He also reaches out to other bipolar folks, including a college student struggling to fathom how her illness affects her creativity as a writer, a heavily medicated woman prone to catatonic stupor, two brothers who were diagnosed bipolar at the ages of 11 and 17,  and bipolar actors Carrie Fischer and Richard Dreyfuss.

The documentary examines the high risk of suicide amongst sufferers of bipolar disorder through interviews with a man who survived after putting himself in the path of a moving bus (be forewarned: you get a good look at what the ordeal did to his legs) and the parents of a bipolar woman who killed herself at the age of 27. Other subjects include over-medication, the prevalence of bipolar disorder in Hollywood, the difficulties and dangers of managing bipolar disorder while pregnant, and electroconvulsive therapy.

It’s two hours long, broken up into two parts. There’s an issue with the dubbing, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful film; in 2007 Fry took home an Emmy for his efforts. I recommend this not only for those of us suffering from bipolar disorder but also our friends and family who want a better understanding of the illness.


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