"Shameless" is a hit television series that airs across the world, for my own personal viewing on Netflix. While the show is a major hit, people aren't talking about the issues in the portrayal in the "mental health" category. Ian and Monica are both pretty important characters with bipolar disorder (BD). There are, however, five major flaws with what their bipolar looks like.
1. Ian and Monica's bipolar look identical
As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, number one on my list of issues with how "Shameless" is how they portray bipolar disorder. Ian and his mother, Monica, both suffer from bipolar disorder. We hear repeatedly when Ian first shows signs of bipolar that the cast has "seen this before" indicating that Ian's bipolar was exactly like Monica's. We also see them together on an incredible high when she brings Ian from out of jail the first time, where their personalities obviously are meant to be seen as the same. This is not the case with most people who suffer from bipolar disorder — in fact, it is hard to diagnose because of how differently it looks on everyone. For example, for some people, an extreme high is dangerous, while for others it is merely the better times to their life.
2. They never state that it may not always be as manic as seeing things
"Shameless" shows Ian in a panic believing that people are coming after him. This leads those who are unaware of the true effects of bipolar disorder to believe that all people who have the disorder see things. They could have added in a scene with a doctor that explains that Ian has a very severe case that needs ample medication because he sees things, unlike other patients.
3. It never shows the creative side of bipolar disorder — instead, the highs are sexualized
Ian is a highly specialized character in "Shameless." From his time working at a strip club to the countless number of partners he has had, he is overall seen as someone who really enjoys sex. While this isn't a problem, it does give some type of indication that when he is on a "high" point, it is all about sex, when in fact many people with bipolar do other things like creating beautiful art, explore the world, and do many other incredible activities. Ian's portrayal of bipolar is best seen on his "downs" when he stays in bed all day, but that only happens a few times through the season, when for many people it is a frequent occurrence.
4. Some people want help
Ian and Monica both refuse help in the show at first. Ian eventually comes to the idea that taking medication isn't the worst idea, but it feels forced. His boyfriend at the time, Mickey, gets into a conversation with Ian where Ian states that he is not broken. This is a heartfelt scene, but in the following episodes, we see Ian taking his medication with no problem. There is no explanation as to why he went from refusing his medication to all the sudden taking it. Many people with bipolar disorder really want help and need therapy with medication. The show never really discusses those who do want help, but instead, Ian pops some pills which magically makes everything better.
5. Not all people who have bipolar disorder are criminals
Both Ian and Monica are criminals in the show. When you have two characters with a mental illness, it is important to show a variety of sides of the disorder. However, the show just makes out like those with bipolar disorder are criminals with Monica being a crazy drug addict and Ian winding up in prison for a plethora of things including escaping from the military and blowing up a van. While it is true that some people with bipolar disorder can be dangerous and break the law, it is not always the case and the show had the perfect opportunity to show all sides of bipolar disorder, but blew it.