Friday, April 15, 2011

Celebrity Mental Illness: Confronting the Social Stereotypes

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.

16 comments:

Randye Kaye said...

yes - brava to Catherine Zeta-Jones for her bravery and grace. May the media treat her with the same empathy, respect, and applause that husband Michael Douglas got when he struggled with cancer.
Randye Kaye
NAMI Family-to-Family tacher/trainer, author of Ben Behind His Voices:One Family's Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope (rel. 9/16/11)

Willa Goodfellow said...

NAMI misses the opportunity to help people with Zeta-Jones' illness, bipolar II, with a website that has to be excavated for information about hypomania. It's there, in a PDF with a link by the title of bipolar, following a long description of bipolar, defining mania and depression, but not hypomania. The reader doesn't know that the PDF is about bipolar II until after reading material about a disorder he/she does NOT have.

People with bipolar II typically are treated for the wrong disease for 8-10 years before being diagnosed correctly. Your website does nothing to shorten those years of suffering.

The Writing Goddess said...

Cheers to Zeta-Jones and all who are open about dealing with mental illness. It's what we don't know about and understand that hurts families.

Jennifer said...

I don't think most people don't get help from some embarrassment over their condition. I think they are uninsured. I am not poor enough for Medicaid, but my so-called insurance would cost half my check. So, despite the fact that I am living and attempting to cope with Borderline Personality Disorder, I am also getting no treatment. I'd love to get treatment, if there were any help anywhere for someone like me.

yaya8568 said...

I think it is a profound thing that Katherine did.It takes guts to admit you are M.I. but when all eyes are on you it takes true courage to fight the stigma.
Kudos to you Katherine, thank you for coming forward & maybe one day M.I. will truely be looked @ as just another illness like diabetes or high blood pressure...
Thank you;)

Carol Dowsett said...

I noticed PBS NewsHour is running a five part series on autism next week. Why? How did that particular issue garner such high profile coverage? Because the former anchor, Robert MacNeil, has a grandson who is autistic. I couldn't help thinking, what a great way to educate us all on this disability. Would be good to see a five part series on Bipolar disorder. It's been a few years since Jane Pauley published her book about own her struggles.

Anonymous said...

I have always been very impressed with known famous people coming forward and sharing that they have bipolar. It makes me feek better and aware that i'm not the only one, it defintelty affects all.

Joyce said...

Zeta-Jones is just like any other family who lives with bipolar illness. She lives in the limelight and this is such a positive that she opens up her heart and mind to seek help so that others will.

Yes, there is a loneliness and isolation with the illness that nobody understands or comprehends until you walk in that person's shoes. I think the hardest thing is our government and health care system doesn't respond with the funds needed because it can only be treated and not cured. The stigma itself only makes the individuals go underground or worse self medicate. Therefore crimes,drugs and alcohol are used to self medicate and this leads family members and friends at a lost on what to do! I myself am looking for necessary resources for a family member to get help.

lori said...

Bi-polar disorder like any other illness is just that an illness. I have lived with a bi polar diagnosis since my early 20s. I own my own business, am a single parent and struggle and rejoice in this time called life; just like every body else. I have made a positive of 'working' with my illness; and seeking help when I need it. I am pleased when any one is honest, and hope and direct about their own self and the challenges they have overcome!

Madeline Sharples said...

Zeta-Jones has done a very important thing in revealing her illness and that she's not embarrassed to talk about it. My son (before his suicide) suffered from bipolar I, and he never wanted to admit he had it. He didn't want to get help either through being compliant with his medications or going into the hospital when needed. Had this potentially deadly disease been talked about more and reported about regularly and openly in the media, perhaps he'd be alive today.
We are still far from erasing the stigma of mental illness. Zeta-Jones has taken us a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

I am grateful for this news. I believe that only good things can come from this and many will be comforted by knowing they are not alone. I think it's very helpful for the general public to see that anyone can be affected by a mental illness and hopefully this can be yet one more step towards reducing the stigma associated with it. It was a courageous move on her part and I respect her for sharing her experience.

DarthSidious said...

It's a shame it takes a celebrity to suddenly get people talking about important issues. Why is it people can't attack problems beforehand? Because they give more importance to celebrity status. What a sorry state of affairs.

TJW said...

I hope that someone at NAMI takes on ABC News editors who allowed this very insensitive and insulting article to run: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/demi-lovato-catherine-zeta-jones-charlie-sheen-bipolar/story?id=13427787

The comments following the inappropriate article demonstrate how outraged those of us are who care for friends and family with a mental illness.

Joanne said...

I'm so happy that catherine Zeta Jones talked about it. it's so important that we are aware of this and it can be treated. it's about time that we the people learn to deal with this .it's not alway's about gays drugs. we are human and I myself never wanted to talk about it.the celebrity are real people.

Pamela said...

I am a Registered Nurse and work with the mentally ill sometimes.I also have a godson who has been schizophrenic since age 16(he is now 27)I see the heartache of family members of the mentally ill--no cure only treatment.I also see the difficulty these patients have with compliance (because of their illness).A major problem is finance. Even a Baker Acted patient can only be hospitalized for 72 hours in the crisis unit.If they have no insurance to go to a long term unit, where do they go? back on the street until the return again. They are called frequent fliers because they just keep rotating through the system.Mental health illness is just like any other chronic illness and should be given the same priority.Some insurance companies even discriminate if you have a problem. I was denied long term insurance because I was treated for depression once.

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