This week’s post: Celebrities Help With Society’s Progress in Understanding Mental Illness

I am still interested in raising more questions about society’s views, perceptions, misconceptions, stereotypes and prejudices regarding mental illness, as well as asking, “How far have we come in a positive way?” because it is true that we are improving.

Let me make this post more reflective of some positive progress in our society in understanding mental illness. Recent disclosures of celebrities regarding their struggles have been invaluable. Like it or not, celebrities can have a huge influence on citizens’ thoughts and perceptions, regarding everything from attractiveness to mental illness. (Of course, Angelina Jolie’s recent public revelation about her double mastectomy has been instrumental in helping women cope with the possibilities of developping breast cancer, and I even know people who, after hearing about this, decided it’s about time I go get that mammogram I’ve been avoiding. How amazing and wonderful!)

Catherine Zeta Jones comes to mind as the most recent “celebrity confession” regarding serious chronic mental illness. She suffers from Bipolar 2 Disorder, which is less severe than bipolar 1, but her mere talking about her struggles and explaining them even went further to educate people, because the vast majority of people do not even know what Bipolar 2 is or about its existence, so one could argue that though she has a less severe form of Bipolar Disorder, she has been couragesous and invaluable in helping people understand how complicated Bipolar Disorder is and also even more importantly, that many people who have any form of Bipolar Disorder are able to function and contribute greatly to society. The mere fact that many individuals with Bipolar Disorder are “in the closet” about it at work and in other arenas, reveals how easily those people who are taking their medication and other treatments are able to “pass” as not having any type of mental illness.

Wow! How timely. I just googled her and bipolar and she has just the other day, emerged from going to a treatment facility for Bipolar 2. Here is the article in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/gossip/la-et-mg-catherine-zeta-jones-bipolar-treament-completed-20130523,0,2772184.story

Actually she first revealed her struggles with bipolar a while ago. In fact, she was “outed” in the fall of 2012 and discussed her struggles in her cover issue interview in InStyle magazine, so actually it should not have come as a shock that she sought out treatment very recently, as most people knew back in fall 2012, as InStyle magazine is pretty mainstream:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2012/11/13/catherine-zeta-jones-instyle-cover-helps-defuse-bipolar-stigma/1703053/

Zeta-Jones is not the first to discuss her struggles with mental illness and really help dispel a lot of stigma about it. I don’t usually like to quote from Wikipedia as it is so easy to just go there for info, and I like to cite a variety of websites, but they do have one of the most extensive lists of celebrities who have suffered from some form of schizophrenia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_schizophrenia

There are many celebrities who have talked about their battles with depression, whether as a teenager or adult. Kirsten Dunst was all over the news in August-November 2011 talking about her most recent bout with depression. I learned about it from watching of all things, the E channnel’s coverage of Celebrities with mental illnesses. This supposedly “superficial” channel about celebrities actually did a great show quite a while ago and extensively covered the range of disorders from eating disorders to depression to anxiety, bipolar and also drug/alcohol abuse. I just looked it up and it came out in 2008; I remember watching the show and I really thought it was a great way to help people understand mental illness and related disorders and see that wealth and fame have nothing to do with mental health. This is the summary of that show:

“Celebrity Crises: 10 Most Shocking Mental Disorders is an American television entertainment special produced by E! Networks which documents the mental trials and tribulations of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The special originally aired in the USA on E! Entertainment on 22 August, 2008. It is 50 minutes long.
Synopsis

When Hollywood stars are diagnosed with a mental health ailment it’s big news. From rumours about Britney’s bipolar disorder to Heath Ledger’s bout with depression, phobias and mental illness are getting more attention.

But of course, mental illness can affect anyone. Close to 58-million Americans — about one in four adults — suffer from a mental disorder.

From eating disorders (Mary Kate Olsen) to depression (Heather Locklear, Kirsten Dunst, Mia Tyler, Jim Carrey, Heath Ledger), to cases where stars have harmed themselves (Christina Ricci – cutting) this one hour special will explore ten troubling mental disorders, with interviews from doctors, psychologists and the stars themselves.”

The show may not have been extensive and totally informative about all these disorders. Who could do that in 50 minutes? However, it was great in scope and just introducing these different issues to the public.

There are also people in politics who have a lot of power to help the public understand mental illness and decrease the stigma and shame. There are also pioneers in the mental health field, such as Kay Jamison, who is not only an expert on mood disorders but wrote a great memoir of her own struggles with Bipolar 1 Disorder, titled “An Unquiet Mind”. The fact that she is well known for her own “coming out” about her personal struggles, indicates we still have miles to go in decreasing stigma, as we see that in the field of mental health itself, the majority of psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists that suffer from any mental illness do not actually feel safe disclosing about their personal struggles. Another author and therapist who has written some great personal accounts of her own struggles is Lauren Slater. Her work is more on the edge and less well known to the general public, but she has written many interesting books about a variety of struggles.

So, in closing, I do believe that some of the best ways to educate the public about mental illness is through the mainstream media, whether it be a celebrity disclosing their struggles and talking openly about their treatment, or even films that attempt to focus on the topic, whether documentary TV shows like the one mentioned above, or the many biopics and fictions films about mental illness, such as the film “A Beautiful Mind” and the TV shows “Homeland”, “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos”, as well as numerous others. Even when such films or tv shows don’t give a totally accurate depiction of a specific mental illness (see my reviews of “Silver Linings Playbook,” they are still contributing to the more healthy dialogue that we need to have about this topic. A little misinformation is worth it if the subject at hand becomes more familiar to the general public and helps people view this topic with more compassion and less judgments…

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