Seven Symptoms of Mania: Homeland “The Vest” (2011)

manic-bipolar-disorder

In Homeland “The Vest”, Carrie (Claire Danes), who is bipolar, has a manic episode. When on her medication, Carrie has a track record of forming accurate judgments in her work as a C.I.A. agent. However, when she goes off her medication, and becomes manic, no one believes what she says. An unexpected theme in “The Vest” is that people who experience mania can still have an accurate perception of reality.

A manic episode is an “abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and persistently increased goal-directed activity or energy, lasting at least one week…”1 When Saul (Mandy Patinkin) visits Carrie at the hospital, he is visibly stunned by her changed personality. Carrie is irate that the nurses do not have a green pen. Later, her mood is euphoric—in one shot, she smiles gleefully for no apparent reason.

In addition to an abnormal change in mood, there are seven major symptoms that can manifest during a manic episode. These include “pressure to keep talking”, “flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing”, “decreased need for sleep”, “increase in goal-directed activity”, “distractibility”, “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity”, and “excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequenes.”2 In “The Vest”, Carrie displays six of the major symptoms of mania.

The first symptom of Carrie’s mania is she talks at a very fast pace. When Saul visits her at the hospital, he tells her: “You’re not yourself. You’re talking very fast. Your thoughts are running together.” Carrie’s thoughts are moving faster than her ability to speak.

With racing thoughts, Carrie has a “flight of ideas” and a unique revelation. She tells Saul “there is a bigger, pernicious, Abu Nazir-worthy plot…” Saul doubts what Carrie says, but she is convinced that another terrorist attack is imminent even though she has no evidence.

After her release from the hospital, Carrie has a “decreased need for sleep” and an “increase in goal-directed activity.” She studies and color-codes boxes of classified documents until late in the evening, and only gets tired when she is given medication.

Although Carrie has a singular focus on stopping another terrorist attack, she is easily distracted. When her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) stops in traffic, Carrie impulsively gets out of the vehicle, crosses the street, and is nearly hit by a car. As she stares at the plants sprouting from the soil, she has a revelation that this is analogous to a coming terrorist attack. To Maggie, Carrie is living in a world of her own, seemingly divorced from reality.

The sixth major symptom of mania is grandiosity: an “unrealistic and exaggerated concept of self-worth, importance … and ability.”3 Carrie believes that she is right, and that everyone else is wrong. Her father, Frank (James Rebhorn), tells her: “Feels good out there, doesn’t it? Like you’re the Queen of the world.” To Frank, Carrie’s behavior is grandiose. She has overestimated her abilities as a C.I.A. agent.

The final outcome of Carrie’s manic episode is ironic: The person experiencing mania has more insight and understanding than people who are in a normal state of mind. Later in the series, there is a terrorist attack, just as Carrie predicted. This is the one aspect in which Carrie’s manic episode is atypical. When a person becomes manic, they are absolutely convinced that their revelations are right, but in reality, they are often wrong.

Notes

  1. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 124.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Medical Dictionary, s.v. “grandiosity,” accessed November 9, 2017, https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/grandiosity

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9 thoughts on “Seven Symptoms of Mania: Homeland “The Vest” (2011)

  1. I haven’t seen this show in a while, but I need to watch it again. I love how you used an episode in the show to highlight symptoms of mania. I believe you are spot on and I use to be able to relate to Carrie’s kind of mania. Now it seems that my mania comes in more irritability. However, I still get very goal-oriented and I do get grandiose thinking. I love her dad’s comment about how it must feel great out there. It truly does. People wonder why some Bipolar people struggle to take their meds, but if they could feel the euphoria we do they would understand. However, what goes up must come down and I’ve been on the down end of euphoria too many times to know that I need my medicine. However, I’m discovering that I operate at a little bit of a more elevated state. It’s just in my nature. You really nailed this post. I can’t wait to see more from you. Thank you for breaking this down. I am going to have to show some friends so they can understand mania better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheers Chris, interesting subject, what can be proven as true. One thing that really bothers us skeptics is the reasoning, the support that many use for the validity of their personal beliefs, that it cannot be dis-proven.
    Let’s be honest, how many things cannot be dis-proven? Bigfoot, the Loch-Ness monster, ‘Little People’ that live in our gardens (my mother firmly believes in them), visiting alien spacecraft, the arcane power of ancient British druids, ghosts, mind-reading radioactive bugs and more.
    Quoting Gordon Bonnet, host of the ‘Skeptophilia’ blog (which I recommend):

    ‘We cannot disprove that a naked dwarf dances upon the mountains of Mars.’

    Now … we can study what little is known about the conditions and chemical make-up of the atmosphere of Mars, from what information has been gained by our un-manned probes sent there. We can then make an ‘informed’ decision as to how likely it is that a dwarf, of any known species – clothed or naked – could survive there and spend its time dancing upon the mountains.
    Some will claim a likely alien origin for the dwarf, some that it is a ‘spiritual entity’ which requires no liveable conditions.

    Rather than rattle on, I would ask this question, “Is the naked dwarf which dances upon the mountains of Mars (which cannot be dis-proven) any less likely than the Little People in the garden,(which has ample believers and supportive anecdotes), various crypto-zoological myths like this bigfoot or that lake-monster or such-and-such psuedo-medicine or anyone’s particular god ?

    Had to get that out of my system, thanks for reading,
    Woody

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Alice. Homeland is actually a TV series, not a movie. The acting is incredible, a tour de force for Claire Danes. It is established early in the series that Carrie is bipolar, but she doesn’t have a manic episode until “The Vest.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Woody. According to the DSM-5, mania and hypomania have the same symptoms, but people who experience mania become a danger to themselves or others.

    I find conspiracy theories interesting, but because they can’t be proven as true, I think they should be held with some degree of doubt.

    People who are delusional will have “a strongly held belief despite evidence that the belief is false.” https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Delusion.aspx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know if i’ve ever suffered a ‘manic episode’, but can understand the descriptions you offer.
    The exaggerated intensity toward a subject which is not actually warranted by the evidence at hand. Thoughts running faster than ones ability to well communicate them or to even fairly judge each on its validity.
    How these things can seem to co-exist with a normally mature, controlled mind and mostly sunny disposition. For some reason I sense a connection between these manic symptoms and the doubtless belief some hold in long-debunked conspiracy theories, or maybe that counts as just another type of mania,

    Best,
    Woody

    Liked by 1 person

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