‘Insecure’ Started The Conversation About Bipolar Disorder and Relationships We Need

Nathan’s vulnerability — and Issa’s willingness to listen — is an important step to ending the stigma

Nylah Burton
Published in
5 min readJun 12, 2020


Kendrick Sampson who plays Nathan on ‘Insecure’. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

As the season finale of Insecure looms, the HBO show continues to tackle issues of love, loss, and heart head-on. In last week’s episode, “Lowkey Trying,” viewers saw Issa and her ex-partner Lawrence finally back together and looking incredibly happy. Though anxious about breaking this fragile new trust, Issa also decided to meet up with her other ex, Nathan, helping him move into his new apartment — at which point Nathan admitted to her that he has bipolar disorder.

It’s a pivotal moment in Issa and Nathan’s relationship — and for TV in general. We rarely see depictions of Black bipolar people, and Black men’s mental health is a topic we don’t discuss nearly enough.

But depression, and certainly bipolar depression, is much more than a bad mood. Both are dangerous brain and psychological disorders that can be life-threatening.

Last season, Nathan and Issa had connected, and then he suddenly ghosted her for about a month. When he finally returned to Los Angeles from Houston and tried to make amends, he explained that he was struggling with mental health, and that’s why he needed to get away. “I don’t know how to explain it,” he said, “but sometimes I just get really down and really negative, and I just can’t talk to people sometimes, and I didn’t want to put you through that… I wasn’t thinking straight.”

When I heard that explanation last season, I immediately suspected he had bipolar disorder. Even though he didn’t list all the symptoms of the condition — which can include manic and depressive episodes, impulsivity, self-harm, delusion, frenzied speaking, and weight fluctuations — as a bipolar woman myself, I recognized what was underneath his confession: fear of Issa seeing him in the middle of a bipolar episode. Those can be scary and confusing, mostly for the person experiencing them, but also for their partners, family, and friends. I wouldn’t want a romantic partner to see me manic. And I recognized his…