Fox’s Breakout Hit Empire Takes on Mental Illness

Mar 14, 2015 | 2015 Articles, Christine F. Anderson, Mental Health, TV

by Christine Anderson

Christine is going to be sharing mental health/mental illness articles now and then with us here at KRL in her new column-Forever Different.

Fox’s new drama, Empire, tells the rags-to-riches story of the Lyon family, whose patriarch, Lucious, played by Terrance Howard, rises to fame as a hip-hop artist, and starts a record label called Empire with drug money his ex-wife, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), earned by dealing, for which she spent 17 years in prison. She left behind three children. The oldest, Andre, played by Trai Byers, was groomed for the position of Chief Financial Officer and sent to the Wharton School of Business, where he obtained his MBA. We see in the first couple of episodes that he takes medication; it’s finally revealed that he’s bipolar. empire

In the beginning of the series, Andre was a well-educated, strong, good looking, businessman. We are now three episodes away from episode 9, the season finale, and he has completely unraveled. We have followed his path, from stable to psychotic, from businessman to burden. In episode 8 he tries to kill himself, but can’t go through with it. In last week’s episode, he went on a buying spree and purchased a Lamborghini, which he drove dangerously. He became uncontrollable to the point where his wife, Rhonda, played by Kaitlin Doubleday, and his father, call an ambulance, have him sedated, and taken away as his wife signs commitment papers for a mandatory 48-hour hold.
What’s intriguing and interesting about this is that the writers of Empire have chosen to show both sides of the illness. They introduced us to Andre as a stable businessman, and then showed what pressure and enormous amounts of stress can do to a person with a mental illness.

“It’s a very real look at this illness,” said Christie Mayo an Advocate for Mental Illness. Christie runs a secret Facebook group to provide peer support for those with bipolar disorder. Christie also said, “Shows like Empire are making it acceptable for people to talk about their illness, get help, and find support that they normally wouldn’t.”

Empire has been picked up for a second season. It will be interesting to see where Andre’s storyline and the development of his character will lead. Having bipolar disorder myself, I am tuning in to find out. Those of us with mental illnesses need shows like Empire to help us fight the stigma. I hope they continue to do it justice.

Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles, and watch for more from Christine.

Christine F. Anderson was born in Brooklyn, New York. Tragically she was orphaned by her 9th birthday and was raised by her older brother. She was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder in 1987. Christine attended Pace University for her undergraduate studies and received her MBA in Marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business in 1991. She has traveled extensively and lived in New York City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. She served a 70-month federal prison sentence for securities fraud between MCC Chicago and FCI Danbury, Connecticut. She has dedicated her life to animal rescue via She now lives with her boyfriend and her many animals on a farm in a small country town in central Virginia.
In 2013, after she self published her memoir, Forever Different, Christine founded Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media, where she is currently CEO, and serves on the marketing committee for the International Bipolar Foundation


  1. Here is the first problem with this article “He WAS a well educated, strong, good looking businessman.”
    Yeah, he is still all those things. Having Bipolar disorder is not who someone is. He isn’t Bipolar, he HAS Bipolar disorder.
    Also, although SOME have extreme swings in mood, not ALL have extremes. I hope they take that into consideration and also show that even after a major episode life can get back on track with the right treatment and follow up. I think it’s also important to show that treatment needs to be a family affair. The entire family needs to be involved in the process. I don’t watch the show and likely wont, but I do hope they actually do their research and not make the stigma worse than it already is. I can easily see it going that way.

    • Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read my article, I am bipolar myself and I know not everyone is the same and that it doesn’t define me, but I do believe they are doing a good job of showing the reality. I am just as interested as you are to see where they take this story line. I hope not to be disappointed myself. I am really hoping someone does this illness justice because we are so much more than the illness.


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