David Harbour Opened Up About His Bipolar Disorder to Comfort Parents of Kids With Mental Illnesses

David Harbour is an actor who achieved mainstream fame through his portrayal of the beloved police chief, Jim Hopper, on Netflix’s supernatural smash hit Stranger Things; he was nominated twice for an Emmy for this role. He also played the title role in 2019’s Hellboy and plays the Red Guardian in Marvel’s action film Black Widow.

These roles have helped Harbour become a beloved actor and household name. It seems like Harbour is living the dream, and he’s recently opened up about some of the struggles he has faced in his life, and why Stranger Things is particularly dear to his heart.

David Harbour buttoning his jacket, smiling, in front of a repeating background with the 'Stranger Things' logo
David Harbour | Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

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Harbour opened up about living with bipolar disorder

In an interview with GQ, Harbour discussed his bipolar disorder, which he was diagnosed with when he was in his 20s. He still has to make sure that he is taking steps to better live with his illness, which includes taking daily medication. The article reports that when Harbour was younger, he was hospitalized because of his bipolar symptoms.

Harbour says that he relates to some of the characters in Stranger Things because of his struggle with mental illness. For example, his own character, Hopper fights a deep depression that comes from losing his daughter. He can even see an “undercurrent of mental illness” in the show’s heroine, Eleven, played by young actress Millie Bobby Brown.

He waited until he was famous to open up

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Christ is risen, guys.

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Harbour states that before he became famous due to his role on Stranger Things, he didn’t feel comfortable talking publicly about his bipolar disorder because he was afraid that the stigma of people living with mental illness being unreliable would prevent him from landing acting jobs.

Now that he’s famous, Harbour says, he doesn’t have to worry so much. He stated in the interview, “As an actor, you’re worried about getting hired, but now I’m at a place where I can talk about this.” He also realizes that as he grows older, he needs to be honest about who he is. “I’m in my forties — I may as well be myself, whether I get work or not.” With his incredible success, it’s doubtful that being open about his disorder will keep Harbour from continuing to get acting jobs.

Harbour wanted to reassure parents of bipolar kids

Harbour shares that the biggest reason he wanted to become more open about his bipolar disorder is that he wanted to comfort the parents of children who are diagnosed with mental illnesses like bipolar. He remembers how much his parents suffered when he was first diagnosed, and he wants parents everywhere to observe his success and realize that their child can be just as successful, even while living with bipolar disorder.

Harbour wants parents to know that even though, yes, their children may struggle, that they are still capable of contributing to society. Living with mental illness might not be what people think of as ‘normal’, but “non-normality is interesting too,” Harbour says. “Embrace your neuro-atypicality! Making it as if you’re the same as everybody else is a lie and it sticks in the craw of the mentally ill.” 

Harbour thinks of Stranger Things as a “show that you can watch with your mentally ill ten-year-old,” and hopes that it brings comfort to children and young people living with mental illness as well as their parents.