Spoilers ahead for Season 1, Episode 7 of Euphoria. Throughout Euphoria‘s first season, we’ve watched Rue grapple with substance use disorder as a result of her depression, anxiety, and ADD diagnoses. But in the July 28 episode, she comes to the realization that she also likely has bipolar disorder — just as her doctor suspected back in the pilot episode. The way Rue’s bipolar disorder is depicted in Euphoria is not necessarily new; though there have been many sensationalized portrayals of the disorder on TV and in movies, there have also been a handful of thoughtful and accurate ones. Still, that doesn’t make it any less revelatory or important: the extreme depictions still far outnumber the authentic ones, and Euphoria is helping to push back against lingering stereotypes previously enforced by pop culture.
Bipolar disorder causes people to experience extreme and/or sudden mood changes which can last anywhere from days to a year. The happy or "up" phases are called manic episodes, while the sad or "down" phases are called depressive episodes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder tends to develop when a person is in their late teen to early adult years. While anyone can develop it, the NIMH finds that it tends to overlap in teens who have also been diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders, and ADD, as Rue was. And similar to Rue’s experiences, it’s not always immediately clear that someone is living with bipolar disorder.
Rue shows all the symptoms of going through manic and depressive states, but because bipolar disorder is so misunderstood — and its effects are sometimes subtle — her friends and family simply think she’s having a rough time. Rue and Lexi dressing up as Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt from Se7en demonstrates this perfectly. Rue acts out a risky behavior (smoking), talks fast about several things that may or may not be related, and has trouble focusing or sleeping (further exacerbated by her chugging coffee made with coffee) — all symptoms of a manic episode. But it’s easy to see this at first as just an amusing pop culture homage, as media has trained audiences to see Rue’s actions in a comedic light (similar to the popular Pepe Silvia meme from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.) Even Lexi, who’s grown up with Rue and knows her well, seems to realize Rue isn’t OK, but isn’t sure exactly what’s going on.
Depressive episodes are very similar to depression, so spotting manic periods is key to a bipolar diagnosis. However, media often portrays aggression and wild outbursts as an integral part of the diagnosis, which can lead to widespread misconceptions. Lucious’ mother in Empire, Pat in Silver Linings Playbook, and Dani’s sister in Midsommar are all examples of characters who are violent as a result of their bipolar disorder. Lucious’ mother and Pat both severely beat people, and the preface to Midsommar is that Dani is grieving because her bipolar sister killed their parents then died by suicide while in a manic state.
"It is really important for people not to think of [people living with bipolar disorder] as walking time-bombs that will destroy other people," Dr. Ruth C. White told VH1 in 2016.
This is why Euphoria‘s portrayal of bipolar disorder is so necessary and refreshing. Rue’s manic state isn’t violent — she’s just excitable and hyper-focused on the single task of rescuing Jules from Nate. Later, her depressive state pulls her into 22-hour marathons of Love Island, during which she resists the urge to get out of bed and pee despite excruciating kidney pain. Rue’s biopolar disorder is not reduced to a quirky new character trait, a narrative device used to ramp up the plot, or something to make her seem dangerous to herself or others. It’s an undramatic, realistic look at what it means to be bipolar, and how difficult that can make day-to-day life and even basic bodily functions.
Most importantly for Rue, the episode ends on a hopeful note. She reaches out to her mother about going back on her medication — the very ones she abandoned in the pilot episode in favor of drugs. Her determination to get better — which many fans feared she’d backslide on as a result of her fallout with Jules — hopefully puts her more in line with characters like Maria Bamford from Lady Dynamite, a show which similarly earned praise for its nuanced, authentic portrayal of bipolar disorder.
Unlike the horror of Midsommar, Maria’s journey is all about finding balance and normalcy after her diagnosis. Her bipolar disorder is always a part of her, but with the support of her friends, she learns to manage it, and even find love and a fulfilling career. With Rue reaching out to her mother, hopefully this is the trajectory we’ll see her on too.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
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