The University of Michigan’s Depression Center aired an early showing of the PBS documentary “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain” Wednesday along with a panel discussion featuring researchers, activists and Ed Moore, the film’s producer and director.
The film features prominent figures living with bipolar disorder such as Academy Award-winning actress Patty Duke, who passed away Tuesday. Melvin McInnis, research director for the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University, made an appearance both in the film and as the panel’s moderator. He discussed his research, which compares the brain matter of those with bipolar disorder to those without, by working with stem cells.
Moore said the film’s initial focus was on bipolar entrepreneurs who, in anticipation of a heavy workload and need for professionalism, stopped taking their medication. This is known as “riding the tiger,” which Moore said is similar to a Chinese proverb about a fear of facing reality, and can result in patients’ driving themselves into hypomania, a persistent state of mood elevation.
The panel discussion, which featured people from the documentary, was livestreamed on the PBS website, following the film screening.
Moore said he was informed early on by one of the film’s advisers that the goal of the documentary should be to spread knowledge about the reality of bipolar disorder and treatment, which he said he found surprising.
“I had no idea that there is a segment of the population where they still prescribed, as Patty Duke had put it, may she rest in peace, that you pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can do this,” Moore said. “You just got to get out there and get with it (mentally). And it’s not that simple.”
The film emphasized the biological components of the disorder and the swings between mania and depression. One of the panelists was activist and award-winning writer Melody Moezzi, whose manic episode was portrayed in the film.
Moezzi said Wednesday she felt like some of her feelings were misrepresented in the documentary as being delusional, and that the narration of the documentary spoke for her at times. In particular, she said, despite the unusual nature of her actions, the spirit of them was not given proper credit.
“Though my delusion was accurately portrayed as being that I could change the world through hula-hooping and I could bring out world peace through hula-hooping, which is mildly delusional, I get it,” she said. “But I do believe that one person can change the world.”
She also discussed how the stigma of mental illness can be a greater difficulty than the bipolarism itself, saying she now she recognizes the signs and she can take measures to prevent outbursts.
She noted that if she had a cure for bipolar disorder, in the form of a drug, she would not know if she would take it, saying she appreciated that her mind works differently than others’.
The film discussed several treatment options for individuals to have a more comfortable lifestyle, emphasizing talk therapy, connecting with the family, exercise, dieting and getting regular sleep.
The film also discussed more unusual methods of approaching mental such as electric shock therapy, which despite its negative history due to its severity, was portrayed as beneficial to bipolar and depressed patients in the film. Ketamine, an anesthetic, was also featured — the film highlighted research that showed how soldiers in Vietnam thought the drug lightened their mood.
Another panelist, Ellen Forney, a cartoonist and award-winning writer, said artists with bipolar disorder sometimes allow the condition to become part of the creative process.
Forney mentioned yoga being a large part of her routine, and emphasized how connectivity and therapy is as important to those with bipolar disorder as well as individual action. Moezzi agreed, and said her Muslim faith helped her manage her condition.
McInnis said he wanted University students to take away tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle from the film.
“What I want Michigan students to gain from this is to have an awareness of their moods, and awareness that their moods can cycle up and down, and there are pathological states that can emerge from mood,” McInnis said. “I also want them to hear the message of healthy sleep patterns, healthy exercise patterns, healthy dietary patterns and the connectivity that is important in healthy living. Living health implies being health and vice versa.”
The documentary will premiere on PBS on April 13.