Bipolar Celebrities: Does It Make Them More Creative?
The creative curse
- Depression may have been dubbed the “common cold of mental health,” but the mental health buzzword these days is bipolar disorder, possibly because it's often associated with creativity, verve, and charisma. Sometimes called manic depression, the disorder affects about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population and can cause extreme mood changes—from manic episodes of very high energy to extreme lows of depression.
- Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose, even for the experts; that may explain why the media feel free to invoke the disorder in the wake of a celebrity’s erratic behavior or substance abuse. While some celebs have been outspoken about their struggles with bipolar disorder, others allude mysteriously to manic depression. Here, see which celebrities, past and present, have been linked to bipolar disorder.
Catherine Zeta-Jones checked herself into a mental-health facility in 2011 to treat her bipolar II disorder, which has longer periods of depression and shorter, milder manic episodes than bipolar I.
Zeta-Jones told People magazine that she decided to go public because it might help others to step forward and get treatment.
"There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help," she said.
It wasn’t until she entered a treatment center for her struggles with anorexia, bulimia, and cutting that teen pop star Demi Lovato found out she had bipolar disorder.
"Looking back it makes sense,"
she told People of her diagnosis. "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."
The Disney darling has
since completed treatment and will continue to see doctors at home in L.A., but says, "I feel like I am in control now."
While the pop princess, 28, kept quiet about possible mental health problems, speculation and rumors about a possible bipolar diagnosis swirled around Spears since the infamous shaved-head photos surfaced in 2007. A parade of psychiatrists and psychologists—none of whom actually treated Spears, mind you—“diagnosed” her as bipolar in various media outlets.
A January 2008 People magazine cover story about Spears referred to “a likely bipolar disorder,” and in it, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based psychiatrist said Spears’s actions suggested “classic bipolar behavior, including hypersexuality, poor judgment, and impulsivity.” Whatever mental health condition Spears may (or may not) have been suffering from, the beleaguered singer seems to have regained her footing.
The grunge rocker took his own life at age 27 despite the success of his Seattle–based band, Nirvana. Noting that one of the band’s songs is titled “Lithium,” which is also a mood stabilizer used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, Time magazine included him in a 2002 list of “manic geniuses” who made great contributions to music, art, or literature and who may have had bipolar disorder.
Many of the questions surrounding the actress’s life and death are still unanswered—and are likely to remain that way. But Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, a 2001 documentary, shed some light on her drug use and mental health.
“We knew that she was a manic depressive,” Monroe’s physician, Hyman Engelberg, MD, says in the film. “That always meant that there were emotional problems and that she could have big swings in her moods.” (You can watch clips of the
The pop star of the eighties and nineties, notorious for her shaved head, openly discussed her mental illness on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007. She said she was diagnosed as bipolar at age 37, after attempting to kill herself on her 33rd birthday. O’Connor, now 43, said she takes antidepressants and mood stabilizers. “Anything is an improvement when you've been in desolation,” O’Connor told Winfrey of the meds, but “it doesn't mean you don't have lumps and bumps."
Vincent van Gogh
The painter suffered from incredible highs and lows throughout his apparent struggle with mental illness. During his lifetime, van Gogh’s disease wouldn’t have been known as bipolar disorder, but today the symptoms are clearly recognizable. “When van Gogh's health and spirits were up, he painted with confidence and energy amounting almost to fury,” a Washington Post art critic wrote in 1998. “When he was down...he was virtually paralyzed with doubt and fear.”
Actress Fisher, 54, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy, has experienced plenty of turbulence in her life—and not just aboard the Millennium Falcon. After years of struggling with mania and depression, Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 28.
toldUSA Today in 2002 that she now leads a normal life and her behavior is much more predictable, thanks to the lithium prescribed by her doctor. But it wasn’t always so easy. “I hacked off my hair, got a tattoo, and wanted to convert to Judaism," she said of her most recent manic episode.
This introverted poet’s work is often dark and gloomy. While it is impossible to know for sure if her mental illness would have been classified as bipolar disorder today, a 2001 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that examined cycles in Dickinson’s productivity suggests that may be the case.
Dickinson’s doctor diagnosed her with “nervous prostration,” which, according to the study’s author, psychiatrist John F. McDermott, MD, was “characterized by anxiety and depression.” In Dickinson’s time, physicians had not yet identified bipolar disorder as such, but, Dr. McDermott notes, Dickinson’s writing patterns are “not inconsistent” with the symptom profile of the disorder.
The dark diaries and letters of Woolf, who suffered four major breakdowns before drowning herself at age 59, have convinced numerous scholars that the writer must have had manic-depressive illness. According to a 2004 article by psychologist Katherine Dalsimer, the “mood swings from severe depression to manic excitement and episodes of psychosis” that Woolf experienced would be diagnosed as bipolar today.
In a 2004 interview, the 54-year-old actress of Terminator fame revealed that she had been living with bipolar disorder for more than 20 years. She was finally diagnosed after 10 years of “amazingly brilliant” manic highs, and lows that felt “like falling into a manhole and not being able to climb out no matter what.”
Hamilton decided to tell the public about her struggle 10 years after her diagnosis, when she had the disorder under control. “My quality of life is more amazing than I ever could’ve imagined in those 20 years of struggling with illness,” she said.