By Katrina Gay
NAMI Director of Communications
When actress Catherine Zeta-Jones revealed that she lives with bipolar II disorder and received mental health treatment for her illness, the Academy Award-winner suddenly became the focus and discussion of many Americans. As a result, many people began asking questions about mental illness and bipolar disorder specifically.
On NAMI's Facebook page, in discussion groups and through the media, we found ourselves participating in a larger discussion about what it means when a public figure is suddenly in the mental health spotlight.
By being honest and transparent about getting help, Zeta-Jones makes us confront the social stereotypes we consciously, or subconsciously, carry about mental illness and individuals. It also helps enlighten America's understanding of an illness that is prevalent and often so misunderstood.
NAMI received several calls from the media seeking a response. What did we think about this news? Did we see this as an opportunity? Did we have any concerns? The response to this was an easy one. True to the essence of NAMI as both an organization and a movement is the story of each individual and each family. Through the sharing of our stories, we are able to change the hearts and minds of the American public, to offer help and hope to those in need. Whenever anyone-a neighbor, co-worker or a celebrity-shares his or her experience and models self-care, mental illness becomes like any other human condition. Some are invited to challenge their previous misconceptions, others are encouraged to seek help for their own conditions and families are encouraged to heal what, for some, are hidden wounds of shame that may have been unfairly imposed upon them by an community that is unable to understand.
The latest research suggests that less than one-half of people living with bipolar disorder receive mental health treatment. By graciously sharing her openness about taking care of herself, Zeta-Jones serves as an example for others and inspires many to step out of the shadows, confronting their own barriers to treatment and seeking both help and understanding.