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David Harbour reveals bipolar diagnosis and unusual coping mechanism

By Leah Groth ; Updated June 07, 2018

During an interview on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, David Harbour opened up about his struggles with mental illness, revealing that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed to a mental asylum.

“I was sober for, like, a year-and-a-half. I was 25, and I actually did have a manic episode and I was diagnosed as bipolar,” the “Stranger Things” star, 43, said. “I really had, like, a bit of a break where I thought I was in connection to some sort of god that I wasn’t really in connection to. It was like I had all the answers suddenly.”

Licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., explains to LIVESTRONG.COM that bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by episodes of mania (“periods of irritability, grandiosity, excitability, little need for sleep, pressured speech and rapidly running thoughts, and in some cases we may see psychotic or delusional symptoms”) and distinct episodes of depression (“periods of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, changes in sleep and appetite, difficulty concentrating”).

“When a person is manic, they are manic,” she adds. “They do not cycle between mania and depression in the same day or, frankly, even in the same month. The mania is a discrete period, and it varies across individuals in terms of how long before a discrete episode of depression occurs.”

After being diagnosed as bipolar, Harbour began taking medication, but finding the right medication has been tricky. “I’ve been medicated bipolar for a long time,” he revealed. “And I’ve had problems going on and off. I’ve had a struggle going on and off the medications.”

According to Dr. Durvasula, it isn’t uncommon for bipolar patients to struggle with getting properly medicated. “Getting a good treatment regimen that works is essential, and there can be a fair amount of trial and error,” she explains. “Not all bipolar disorder is the same, and some clients may need different kinds of mood stabilizers and even antipsychotic medications, and then psychiatrists take great care to balance antidepressants against risk for mania.”

And this is why it is a disorder that requires pharmacological management, psychotherapy and coping skills development as well as overall good health care focused on managing other medical conditions, quality of life and wellness.

While many people who deal with mental illness rely heavily on spiritual tools, such as prayer and meditation, to ease the symptoms, Harbour maintains they have an opposite effect on him. “The funny thing about my particular brain or mental illness is every time that I’ve had an episode like that, it’s always coupled with spirituality,” he explained. “Generally, people are like, ‘I need to meditate more’ or ‘I need to get into yoga.’ And I need to, like, eat a cheeseburger and just, like, smoke cigarettes and hang out.”

It may seem like he’s being cavalier about a terribly serious topic, but his sense of humor helps to normalize mental illness.

“With a lot of laughter and acknowledgment of how pedestrian it is to be a part of the tribe nowadays,” he tweeted on Tuesday, promoting the podcast. “If someone you love still suffers shame about a diagnosis, or a fellow parent worries that their bipolar kid won’t be able to make it, our @WTFpod could soothe. Last 30 mins.”

Harbour isn’t the only celebrity to get real about bipolar disorder recently. Kanye West’s new album “Ye” is rumored to be heavily focused on the subject, as the star has started opening up about his own mental health issues. In a new interview he referred to his “medical condition” as his “superpower” and admitted he is currently taking medication to treat it.

If you think you might be suffering from bipolar disorder, you should seek expert help immediately. “It is a manageable disorder if people have access to good quality care,” explains Dr. Durvasula. However, she maintains that lack of mental health care remains a major issue in the United States. “Over half of people who need care for mental illness do not receive it.”

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