The latest celebrity trend?

In Bipolar, Celebrities on April 24, 2011 at 4:12 am

When Catherine Zeta-Jones recently announced that she had bipolar disorder I was worried. Not about her, for me. While I admire her bravery and honesty in confronting this issue publicly – from a totally selfish perspective – it was the classic case of bad timing.

The last thing I want anyone to think is that I’m jumping on the bandwagon, that I’ve launched The Moody Cow because a series of celebrities have either announced that they have bipolar or have been diagnosed as such by armchair psychiatrists and gossip columnists alike.

Let’s make things clear: I don’t do trends. Never have. And I’m not going to start now at the age of 35. If I were so inclined I’d sooner buy myself a Louis Vuitton bag than tell the world I have a mental illness. This blog was conceived weeks before Zeta-Jones’s health problems came to light.

On the surface, however, the “bipolar” label seems to be THE latest thing to have in the world of celebrity. Like adopting black babies from Africa and getting a colonic before the Academy Awards it seems that everyone has to have a touch of madness to be cool. (I’m being facetious, of course.)

Nevertheless, for the past few years “bipolar” has become the latest buzzword in showbiz media. Celebrities who have publicly admitted to having the disorder include the actors Stephen Fry and Mel Gibson, singer Sinead O’Connor as well as Brit pop star Kerry Katona. Let’s not forget Disney actress Demi Lovato whose revelation came on the heels of the Zeta-Jones announcement.

Then there are those celebrities who are going through a personal or professional crisis and are acting erratically. They could just be behaving badly or purposefully trying to break free of the cookie-cutter image managers and agents want them to fit into. But we have to label them with something. So Britney Spears and Charlie Sheen have both been shoved under the bipolar umbrella.

I’m not belittling any of the celebrities that I have mentioned. (In fact I admire all of them for being so upfront.) But I am concerned that some members of the public will become cynical. I don’t want the term “bipolar” to be likened to “sex addiction” where just the mere mention of the term makes people roll their eyes and think it is just an excuse for bad behaviour. It is not.

Bipolar disorder is a real illness that affects millions of people worldwide. According to an 11-nation study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in March 2011, 2.4 percent of people around the world have been diagnosed as having bipolar at some point in their lifetime. The US has the highest lifetime rate of the disorder at 4.4 percent. Meanwhile the National Health Service (NHS) website reports that in the UK, one person in 100 is diagnosed with the condition. So there are many people with this condition walking among us.

There is nothing sexy about bipolar. There is nothing trendy about being immobilised by your moods. Depression for me is like Mike Tyson – it can knock me out with one punch. It leaves me groggy and listless. There have been mornings when I’ve had to negotiate with myself to brush my teeth let alone have a shower. At my worst there have been weekends where I haven’t had a wash, combed my hair or left my house I’ve been so depressed. I don’t go out and see friends. If the phone rings I don’t answer it preferring to roll over in my bed and bury my head beneath the sheets.

Conversely being manic is an exhilarating experience of having fire running through my veins. I’ve never snorted cocaine but I don’t think I could work longer, talk faster or have more powerful orgasms if I took that drug such is the intensity of my natural highs. Then I crash and more often than not cringe when I realise how I’ve run amok over the last x amount of days.

For 80 percent of the time I’m stable and the only thing that reminds me that I have bipolar is the medication I have to take every morning and every night. Other than that if I get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and don’t drink in excess, I’m fine.

But it’s that remaining 20 percent that makes me want to warn those who read about bipolar in the news and rush to dismiss it as a celebrity fad. It’s not like hair extensions or Botox, fake boobs or the latest diet. You can’t be bipolar one day or suddenly decide you’re not the next. It’s serious. It’s real. And if you’re suicidal it can be deadly.

Bipolar is no respecter of persons – whether you’re an Oscar-winning actress or a shopkeeper. It’s a great leveller.

So, while I’m glad that more celebrities are opening up about their private battle with the disorder and attempting to divorce it from shame, I don’t want anyone to think people who say they have it are slavishly trying to follow the latest trend. Trust me, if they had a choice, they’d invest in a designer handbag instead. It’s a hell of a lot more fun.

M x

  1. Fascinating reflections by a courageous and talented writer, offering important (and entertaining) insights into the world of those dealing with the challenges of being bi-polar. Long overdue! Thanks, Marissa-

  2. No drinking for me. Not even one glass of wine with dinner – it always comes back to bite me.
    As for the celebs – it may be a fad. I just hope those who are truely suffering are getting appropriate help.

  3. Catherine Zeta Jones going public with her struggle with bipolar disorder distracts attention away from other mentally ill Individuals suffering from mental illnesses that are more debilitating then bipolar disorder. Zeta Jones has the best treatment available. It is offensive to hear her carry on about her suffering. How about those who are denied or given minimal treatment? Many of our homeless population suffer from mental illness. The best treatment option for them is prison. The public’s empathy should not be focused on the wealthy. The focus should be on the most vulnerable of us.

    • Thanks for your comments Mary. Whilst I completely agree that not enough is being done for thousands of mentally ill patients in the US, my intention is not to criticise Catherine Zeta-Jones. I have no knowledge of the severity of her case and I suspect that she decided to release a statement because her diagnosis was going to become headline news anyway – whether she wanted it to or not.
      But it is sad that oftentimes a celebrity has to reveal they have bipolar before it receives the press attention that it deserves or is “legitimised” in the public consciousness. I salute those famous manic depressives that opened up about the condition, long before it became a buzzword. Carrie Fisher and Patty Duke spring to mind. One hopes that now Zeta-Jones has acknowledged she has a mental illness, people will become more accepting of the homeless person who talks to his or herself or is erratic.
      You’re right. There should be funds in place to help those who cannot afford treatment. There should be a safety net available to help those who have no home, no job, no family and no support network to guide them back to mental health.
      What we need to do as a society is to highlight the inadequacies in the health care system on a local and national level. In the meantime I thank God on a daily basis that I have health insurance because I only need look at the homeless man on the street with paranoid schizophrenia or the woman with untreated multiple personality disorder to know that that could easily be me. M x

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