One of the unshakable laws of “Empire” (Fox’s new hit TV series) is that Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) stands by her sons, no matter what. Even when she applied a little tough love and whipped her foul-mouthed, disrespectful baby boy Hakeem (actor Byshere Y. Gray) in the premiere, you knew she thought she was teaching him a valuable lesson.
But her fierce parenting instincts were off base when she blew off oldest son Andre’s (actor Trai Byers) therapists as they explained that he had bipolar disorder (manic depression, a form of mental illness) and needed treatment. In a recent episode, Cookie tossed her weave to one side, scowled with disgust and said:
“Hey, hey everybody just hold on for a minute. What is this bipolar disorder? ‘Cause you know that whack stuff with psychiatrists and music therapy and whatever this is. That’s white people’s problems see. ‘Cause my baby strong. He is a Lyon. He can beat anything.”
You know Cookie was just defending her child, but the scene revealed a serious problem common in many black families and communities: We often view mental illness as a sign of weakness or as something we can just tough out. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
More than 2 million people have bipolar disorder (BP), and black men and women are just as likely to be bipolar as people of other races, yet blacks are far less likely to seek care or get adequate treatment. Many famous African Americans have been diagnosed with BP, including singer Nina Simone, actress Jennifer Lewis, Jessie Jackson Jr. and singer Macy Gray. Some of them have also come out to help raise awareness.
BP is characterized by drastic mood swings between manic and depressed phases. The exact cause is unknown, but people with BP have an imbalance in brain chemistry and may have inherited some level of risk for the disease. The very public meltdowns of stars like singer Chris Brown (diagnosed with BP last year) show that untreated BP can wreak havoc on someone’s life unless they receive the proper care.
So no Cookie, BP diagnosis and treatment is not just for “white people.” It’s important for everyone to know that with appropriate treatment, people with BP can lead successful, fulfilling lives.