“Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression, affects nearly 6 million American adults, or about 2.5% of the adult population. Most people swing from depression to manic states.” – Health.com
Trying to get by, living day-to-day in a high-pressured society, such as the one in which we live today, is tough enough. In fact, you could say it is not too dissimilar to living in a pressure cooker. There are so many hoops to jump through and hurdles to overcome – whether it’s achieving good grades, getting the right qualifications, finding the right job, meeting the cost of bills, or raising our children right, saving for their college fund, getting them into a good school… the cycle goes on.
Double that with the pressure of living in the public eye, in an arena where everyone is watching everyone else: they are judging you, your performance, your appearance and your behavior. Then multiply that with trying to keep work coming in – in an already uncertain environment – within a creative industry where you are told that you are only as good as your last movie, song or novel.
That is enough pressure alone for any human being to have to deal with. But can you imagine having all of that pressure on your plate, along with a mood-swinging mental health condition to have to publicly and privately manage? We are talking about bipolar disorder. What if you don’t know you have it? And should you find yourself diagnosed with it, can you imagine trying to keep a condition like that under wraps? But by keeping your medical status quiet, are you not just adding to your stress levels? What if, on top of your not wanting to divulge your medical status, you are continuously criticized for your “unusual” behavior, then branded a “drug addict,” “an alcoholic” or just plain “out of control”?
These are just a few of the issues that some celebrities suffering from bipolar disorder are faced with on a daily basis. That, along with not knowing whom to trust, who to keep close to you, or whose company to be wary of. Okay, so you may be asking, “who told them to get involved in an industry that can build you up and tear you down, in a Hollywood nanosecond, when they’re already prone to feeling the way that they do?” But whose business is it anyway? It is not like anyone asks to have the condition. But it still begs the question: How do celebrities deal with bipolar disorder?
We are often hearing about various celebrities being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition that, according to Mind.org, consists of a series of extreme swings in mood, from overactive, excitable behavior, known as “mania” or “manic episodes,” to a deep and low, sometimes suicidal depression. There are different types of bipolar disorder, which Mind.org has helpfully laid out on its website for our understanding, the link of which is provided at the end of this article. But in a nutshell, and to place a little clarity on its meaning, here is a list of its different types:
- Mania with psychotic symptoms – severe symptoms, ranging from having a sense of your own importance, which can develop into delusions. This could also lead to a sense of feeling persecuted and that others are out to get you.
- Depression with psychotic symptoms – experiencing severe depression where you may start to hear and see things that nobody else can see (hallucinations), or you might have certain beliefs that others don’t share (delusions). You might hear voices accusing you of doing things, or you might be convinced that some disaster is about to occur. This can all be highly distressing.
- Bipolar I – experiencing mostly manic episodes, some but not all, with depression.
- Bipolar II – severe depressive episodes alternating with hypomania.
- Cyclothymic disorder – short periods of both mild depression and hypomania.
- Rapid cycling – At lease four or more episodes per year, ranging from manic, hypomanic, depressive or mixed episodes.
- Mixed states – episodes of depression and elation simultaneously.
But what are the triggers that tend to bring on episodes such as these? There have been countless articles written and studies conducted on illnesses and their triggers and this is one that, perhaps, may not be so different. To start with, not too much is known about its causes, besides the chemical aspects, but what is known is that it can be either genetically passed down, or there could also be no prior history in the family of the condition. It can occur in the teens, but is said to generally occur in the 20s and 30s, with an equal male to female ratio.
Research shows that triggers can usually arise from stressful environments, illnesses or social issues, all of which we can face on a daily basis. Studies have also proven that childhood distress, where a child could have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse, has been known to bring on a development of the condition. Bipolar disorder can also be attributed to other distressing situations, such as grief, loss, trauma or neglect, according to Mind.org.
It is common knowledge that the Red 2 star, Catherine Zeta Jones, a self-confessed patient of bipolar II, had to check herself into a mental health facility, following her husband Michael Douglas’ recent bout of throat cancer. Her coming out (and others too) to detach the stigma about the condition has certainly shed more light on it and, in so doing, has also helped raise more awareness of it. Ms Zeta Jones told People Magazine that she wanted to go public with it so that others might go forward to seek treatment. She put it quite simply:
“There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.”
It turned out to be a good move on the part of Ms Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato had commented on her statement saying that she thought Catherine Zeta Jones brave to open up and tell the world about her condition. No sooner had she done so than Lovato then checked herself into a residential treatment center for what she initially believed to be “a nervous breakdown,” according to People magazine. There she found that her manic tendencies were diagnosed as bipolar disorder. Studies show that, symptomatically, bipolar disorder can also lend itself to extreme bouts of overactive elation and excitability, where the sufferer can spend ages focusing on a series of creative activities for inexplicable periods of time.
“Looking back it makes sense,” Ms Lovato told People Magazine. “There were times when I was so manic, I was writing seven songs in one night and I’d be up until 5:30 in the morning.” Following her treatment, the former Disney star and Heart Attack singer said, “I feel like I am in control now.”
Another pop star that remained silent about her condition, although it was suspected that she suffered from bipolar disorder based on what a variety of psychiatrists and psychologists had said in other publications, was Britney Spears. The world gasped as pictures emerged of the mother-of-two impulsively shaving off her trademark long, golden locks, dressing like a stripper and behaving erratically, sparking debate as to whether she had been lured into some kind of drug binge with her then lover, K-Fed, or whether it was something less sinister, such as a series of manic depressive episodes.
In a January 2008 issue of People Magazine, there were suggestions of “a likely bipolar disorder,” where, in the article, a California-based psychiatrist was quoted as saying that Ms Spears’s actions demonstrated “classic bipolar behavior, including hyper-sexuality, poor judgment, and impulsivity.” Whatever was happening with Ms Spears, things seem to have returned to some semblance or normality, for the time being that is.
In extreme cases, there are certain stars who have fallen foul of the condition, although it could be argued that it may not have been the condition itself, but other connected factors that resulted in some tragic and fatal outcomes. As studies have indicated, those with bipolar disorder often have feelings of euphoria, excessive risk taking, and poor judgment. Nirvana’s lead singer, Kurt Cobain, sang about one of the mood stabilizing chemicals used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, “Lithium.” Amy Winehouse and former screen siren Marilyn Monroe’s lives were overshadowed by manic depression and all three, to varying degrees, were known to have major scrapes with overdosing from cocktails of drugs and alcohol. It is sad that they had not fully grasped the severity of their addictions, eventually either causing their systems to cease functioning or finally taking their own lives.
According to Health.com, in the 2001 documentary, Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, Ms Monroe’s physician, Hyman Engelberg, MD, was quoted as saying:
“We knew that she was a manic depressive… that always meant that there were emotional problems and that she could have big swings in her moods.”
Irish songstress-turned-priestess, Sinéad O’Connor had tried to commit suicide on her 33nd birthday. She told Oprah Winfrey that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by her 37th birthday. The singer is currently prescribed mood stabilizers and antidepressants to control her condition. Ms O’Connor, famous for her beautifully haunting remake of Prince’s Nothing Compares to You, told Oprah Winfrey of her diagnosis:
“Anything is an improvement when you’ve been in desolation, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have lumps and bumps.”
Not too dissimilarly to Britney Spears’s experience, Star Wars trilogy actress, Carrie Fisher reportedly told USA Today about one of her later episodes, “I hacked off my hair, got a tattoo and wanted to convert to Judaism.” She had been diagnosed initially in her early twenties. Of the incident, she said:
“When I was about 24, I had a doctor tell me I was hypomanic. He said I should go on lithium. I thought he was trying to get rid of me.”
Joking aside, the actress did not heed her doctor’s advice. “To my recollection, which may or may not be reliable, I wasn’t diagnosed again until I overdosed at 28,” said Ms Fisher, in an attempt to help others to not make the same mistakes she did by going untreated.
Another case, which could have ended in tragedy, and we are so grateful that it did not, is the case of Robert Downey Jr. who was misdiagnosed for years. Mr Downey was put in a perpetual cycle of drug arrests and incarcerations, followed by the 12-step program. When what he really needed was the correct medication for his bipolar disorder, according to his stepmother, Rosemary Rogers Downey.
Terminator heroine, Linda Hamilton, who played no-nonsense tough cookie Sarah Connor in the films, spoke out at length about her 20-year struggle with and diagnosis of bipolar disorder in an AP Radio interview. According to Today.com, Ms Hamilton had been struggling with the condition for much of her life. She couldn’t understand what drove her to eat compulsively when she was a child. After a decade of testing, she finally knew. She spoke of her severe mood swings and how difficult it was for her nearest and dearest to be with her:
“If I was suffering or angry with my husband over the smallest slight, he would suffer. And if we happened to be with his brother and sister-in-law, they would suffer. There was no capacity to remove myself from my condition and think about other people in the room and how they might not want to have to be dragged into this, so it was all about me,” the star told AP.
Ms Hamilton shed further light on the extreme mood swings she was experiencing during her manic episodes:
“It was an amazingly brilliant time. You don’t need sleep. I think I existed on four hours sleep a night for four years… But it’s not all great feelings. A lot of the raging that I did I think was the manic part of my disorder. The capacity for fighting, war, taking everything on, taking too much on, overachieving and then raging because my system was so depleted.”
Hamilton described the lows like, “falling into a manhole and not being able to climb out no matter what.” After taking, what seems to be, the classic route of self-medication with alcohol and drugs, in a desperate attempt to find answers, Ms Hamilton found herself in the middle of an intervention. A friend locked her in his office and would not let her out until her physician was called.
“Forty percent of people who are being treated for mental illness are not addressing the physical body.” – Linda Hamilton.
Hamilton recommends a combination of eating, exercising and sleeping correctly, although where exercise is key to wellbeing, the mind has much to overcome in the process, so following a regiment is better. She says that there is a definite correlation between mind and body, which also includes the state thereof. If the mind is being treated, it is important not to give up on the body too. She added that forty percent of people being treated for mental illness are not addressing the physical body. Linda Hamilton does not stop there. She also recommended what you can do if you know of anyone who you think might need help:
“There are websites. Get yourself informed, there are questionnaires you can fill out and talk to your physician. Do your work. It is so worth it to get the help and to live the quality of life that I am living today. And I really believe that if it was possible for me, who lived in a dark hole for so long, it’s possible for anyone. There is hope. You can do it. Start now.”
Celebrity psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Sophy, summarizes in this video, what bipolar disorder is, its causes and how it can be treated:
Other celebrities reported to have suffered or be suffering from bipolar disorder and manic depression:
Macy Gray; Sting; Tom Waits; Jean-Claude Van Damme; Axl Rose; Mel Gibson; Cameron Diaz; Russell Brand; Jim Carrey; Ben Stiller; Stephen Fry: Richard Dreyfuss; Ted Turner; Scott Welland; Pete Wentz; Larry Flint; Rapper DMX; Vincent van Gogh; Ludwig Van Beethoven
There are organizations related to Bipolar Disorder for help and support:
By Brucella Newman