David Harbour says he was institutionalised for bipolar disorder at 26

The Stranger Things actor added that he believes ‘being mentally ill is a natural condition of poverty’

Laura Hampson
Saturday 28 May 2022 14:07 BST
(Getty Images)

Stranger Thingsactor David Harbour has revealed he was institutionalised for his bipolar disorder when he was in his mid-twenties.

“I was diagnosed at 26 as bipolar after an episode that landed me in an institution,” the actor explained.

“I have been struggling with the medical model of mental illness for a long time. I started to really get into talk therapy around the particular trauma, and I find that narrative and stories, dealing intellectually and emotionally with personal trauma, has been far more liberating to me than hospitals and drugs.”

Speaking to The Big Issue, Harbour added: “I have definitely been in and out of the system. And there were times in my life where very easily I could have ended up on the streets, but I luckily had a family who could support me through those lean and very trying times.”

The 47-year-old, who plays Hopper on the hit Netflix series, explained that there is a “social component” to mental illness.

“It’s not like a broken leg. What defines crazy is social inappropriateness. But it’s very socially inappropriate, in a sense, to not have enough money to live on,” he said.

Being mentally ill is a natural condition of poverty. “When you can’t participate in society by going out buying lunch and go into a store and stuff, it’ll make you crazy. It’s chicken and egg. They go hand in hand.”

The American actor, who married British singer Lily Allen in 2020, said that prior to Stranger Things he struggled to get by on his regular acting gigs.

“It hit very hard a month after I hit 40. I remember going in and I was very upset because I still was in this place where I didn’t have any money, I was worrying about how I was going to pay my rent,” he explained.

Of landing his role on Stranger Things, the actor said he thought it was going to be a show that he would love but no one would watch.

“It was different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. One by one I started to get tonnes of text messages saying, ‘Stranger Things is amazing, I love this show’,” he explained.

“I’ve never experienced that before or since. It was really a magical moment. The reviews and numbers hadn’t come in but I knew at that point it was something special that really touched people.”

You can read the full interview with David Harbour in The Big Issue, available from vendors or via an online subscription.

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