David Harbour reveals he’s bipolar and spent time in an asylum


David Harbour plays Sherriff Jim Hopper on Stranger Things. He seems like a fun guy who’s game when it comes to his fans. He is now, in my opinion, doing his fans and everyone else a tremendous service by opening up about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the fact that he once had to be institutionalized. David was interviewed by Marc Maron for Marc’s podcast WTF in which they spoke candidly about David being diagnosed at the age of 25 after his parents were forced to commit him to a mental asylum (his words).

David Harbour is getting candid about his experience with mental illness.
Harbour, 43, said his mental health was actually tied to his early preoccupation with spirituality.

“Here’s the interesting thing, which I’ve actually never truly spoken about publicly,” he said. “I actually was in this Catholicism thing … and I was sober for like a year and a half, I was 25, and I actually did have a manic episode and I was diagnosed as bipolar.”

“I really had like, a bit of a break where I thought I was in connection to some sort of God that I wasn’t really in connection to,” he continued. “It was like I had all the answers suddenly.”

Asked if he was on drugs at the time, Harbour said no.

“The interesting thing about it was that I realized I don’t really need them,” he said. “That I have a capacity to see ‘the elves’ in the corners of the room if I really allow myself to go there. So I actually was, by my parents, taken into a mental asylum.”

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Harbour said he began taking medication.
“That’s actually when the drugs came in,” he said. “I’ve been medicated bipolar for a long time. And I’ve had problems going on and off. I’ve had a struggle, going on and off the medications.”

Now, Harbour said he’s found what works for him.

“The funny thing about my particular brain or mental illness is every time that I’ve had an episode like that, it’s always coupled with spirituality,” he said. “Generally, people are like, ‘I need to meditate more’ or ‘I need to get into yoga.’ And I need to like, eat a cheeseburger and just like, smoke cigarettes and hang out.”

“Because like the minute I get close to that — what I consider a flame — of like ‘the answers’ and the mysticism … it’s like I’m out of my mind,” he said. “So if I write the self-help book it’s going to be like, ‘Sit on the couch and play some video games.’ ”

[From People]

I have not listened to the whole the podcast yet, but I will. I cannot express how grateful I am to David for discussing this so openly. Bipolar disorder has touched my world very closely. I don’t speak about it due to the wishes of those involved. I can talk about my grandmother, but she died before I was born so I have no first-hand knowledge of what went on. Her “issues” were kept quiet from the rest of the family. My mother had no understanding of what was happening to her mother until her father died and both of her brothers were overseas with the Navy. She was 16 and my grandmother became her responsibility. But the problems began long before that. Once, when my mom was seven, she was sitting at the kitchen table with the boy who lived down the street, eating some snack when she laughed at something he said and leaned over the table. My grandmother grabbed a (fortunately very dull) butcher knife and chased after my mother calling her “a wh*re.” Afterwards, my grandfather told my mom that my grandmother was “staying with friends” for a while and that nobody needed to know their business. Not that I needed justification, but I wanted to emphasize how very much I appreciate David telling the world it’s okay to talk about this.

I found his mania being connected to spiritualism very interesting. I don’t think it’s anything more than his particular trigger but it’s still fascinating. I enjoyed David using touches of humor while discussing it. I’m sure it’s the only way he can talk about it, but it also made it approachable. As with any disorder or illness, people have different experiences. Many of us hear a story and think, “that’s nothing like what I experienced.” But then one person tells a story that is exactly what you experienced, and that’s when you feel less alone in the world.




Photo credit: WENN Photos and Twitter

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22 Responses to “David Harbour reveals he’s bipolar and spent time in an asylum”

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  1. Shannon says:

    Love it, and many thanks to him and celebrities who continue to ‘come out’ so to speak and normalize what has been a source of shame in the past.

    • Janet says:

      Love that term ‘come out’ because mental illness needs to be distigmatised and treated like physical illnesses. The shame associated with mental illness must be eroded so that people can seek help without any stigma.

    • Esmom says:

      Yes, I am touched and humbled and encouraged (My teenage son suffers from depression and was once hospitalized for a manic episode) by his story. His experience wasn’t spiritual in nature but it did involved thinking he knew things other people didn’t, that he had special powers. I think that’s common and I still shake when I remember how scary it was. It’s so frightening to not be in control of your brain.

      I said this yesterday on the Kate Spade thread, I believe psychiatric meds are a miracle of modern medicine. Without them, Harbour might still be in an institution and not successful in his field.

    • Una says:

      I agree. My boyfriend has bipolar and it is so misunderstood. Thankfully people talk about their mental health issues more these days. I felt extremely uncomfortable while watching Kanye West’ TMZ disaster because it all felt so manic. The way he was tripping over his words, saying incomprehensible shit etc. Hopefully we will be more aware and open about mental illnesses in future.

  2. BaronSamedi says:

    I listened to the episode when it came out and it was fantastic. David and Marc had a great rapport and it seemed like David wasn’t even really planning to talk about this – it just came out of their great conversation.

    He really goes into depth about it and it gave me great insight into this particular illness. Also he is funny as hell and I <3 him more now!

  3. Erinn says:

    I love him so much. I’d be crushed if something negative ever came out, because he just seems like one of the good ones.

  4. Molly says:

    Drugs? It means he was a junkie?

    • Stormyshay says:

      I thought the question concerning drugs use was appropriate. Several different types of drugs cause hallucinations and psychosis. In fact, there are diagnosable mental disorders/conditions caused by drug use. Methamphetamines can cause a break from reality and visual hallucinations for some individuals with prolonged use. I have worked with clients who it took several months for these side effects to go away after stopping the drug.

      The way I understood his statements is he didn’t need to use drugs to have these symptoms because it was a mental health disorder. He seemed aware this was not a “normal” occurrence.

      • Killjoy says:

        Hijacking for a semi-related PSA about drugs and mental illness: if you have schizophrenia in your family, encourage your kids not to experiment with cannibis until they are 22-25, and fully grown. It’s a potential trigger for schizophrenia, but the risk seems to be lessened for adults.

      • SKF says:

        @Killjoy – this is true if you have bipolar in your family too. My friend with a bipolar mother was triggered at about 21 after smoking a lot of pot on a Uni Ski Trip. Ended up remanded by court to a high security mental hospital. It was awful.

    • SKF says:

      Drugs can trigger psychosis and also unleash latent bipolar. Additionally, many people with bipolar “self-medicate” with drugs because it seems to make them feel better when in fact it usually makes them worse. It can be very hard to deal with a mental illness with its own issues that also makes you have addict tendancies.

      Also, I’d like to point out that drug use in our world is rampant and the majority of people who use drugs do so recreationally. The use of drugs does not automatically mean the person is a junkie.

  5. SM says:

    I love eveything he says here. I am in such an awe of people who are so self-reflective, especially while living with mental health desease. When he says he sort of can feel the episode come when he starts to feel spiritual and like he knows everything and I find his connection to spiritualism very interesting as well. Only if most of us would be willing to check ourselves before declaring we alone know the secret of the universe, there would be much more happyness, peace and solidarity on earth.

  6. Beth says:

    I really appreciate when people are comfortable and able to talk about their life openly like this. So many of us lived with problems that used to be kept secret and it made us feel alone, embarrassed and scared. Seeing my mother and friends of mine live with the difficult bipolar illness is stressful and sometimes scary, but I’ll always be there for them

  7. ChillyWilly says:

    Good on David for being so open. Hecate, your poor mom dealing with this at such a young age and during a time when people did not understand or talk about mental illness. Secrets keep us sick. Something I wish would change is the perception that mental illness is a character flaw. I have had depression and anxiety issues since childhood and still feel ashamed that I am not like “normal” people. Hopefully that will continue to change.

  8. MI6 says:

    Yes, God bless you and him for this, because back in the day it was nothing but shame and fear and hospitals and hiding. And so many were misdiagnosed or given wrong and often brutal treatments.

  9. Lucy says:

    I find that ST has many great features, Dave absolutely being one of them. I love how MBB kinda looks like she could be his actual daughter. Good for him for speaking out on this matter in such an open way. Not an easy task.

  10. Blaire Carter says:

    I prefer ‘mental institution’ to the word ‘asylum’.

    • Anastasia says:

      Yes, I’m thankful to him for talking about this, but it was jarring to see “asylum.” Not a word you hear often these days, for good reason. Psychiatric hospital is the most often used phrase, I believe.

  11. Betsy says:

    Good on him for sharing.

    He’s such a good actor; I’m still lightly creeped out by him based on that one episode of Law and Order: CI he was on.

  12. Chaine says:

    I’m glad he is speaking out, not only to help dispel the stigma of this condition, but also to counter-balance Kanye’s “bipolar is my superpower” line.

  13. ... says:

    It was such a great episode. I was laughing out loud through half of it. Good for him for being so honest and funny about it. His openness will help so many people.

  14. SKF says:

    Delusions around religion, god/s and spirituality are actually pretty common for people with bipolar. My very close friend when fully manic in the early days of first displaying severe bipolar and several psychotic breaks had lots of religious “moments”. He thought he was Jesus and tried to heal people. He thought he could fly and jumped out a window. He would be pretty normal and then launch into full blown fake bible verse. I remember that I was sitting in this high security mental hospital with him (he had a meltdown on a plane and was trying to heal people) and we were talking about how he couldn’t take any drugs anymore (we all dabbled a bit in light party drugs at the time). He was saying “I can’t have this or that” but then he was saying “but I CAN have marijuana” and I was saying “no, honey, that’s the worst one for you” and he stood up and started saying things like “because the Lord sayeth that whatever groweth from the earth, thou shalt have!” He had never been at all religious. I’m happy to report that he has been healthy and happy for years now. He has the right balance of meds, he’s completely sober (he doesn’t even drink because for him it is a gateway), he quit smoking (a crutch for years), he’s super healthy and has lost weight (he used to be bigger) and he is killing it in work, love and life.