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20 Successful People Who’ve Struggled With Bipolar Disorder

By Leslie

As America overcomes and eliminates the unfortunate stigma that has been attached to mental illnesses, more and more successful individuals have disclosed their struggles with various disorders. Bipolar disorder, specifically, is one that can startle those who don’t understand it. If not controlled, it can cause shifts in mood and energy, and can hinder the sufferer from undertaking their normal daily activities, thus preventing them from living a normal life. That’s why it’s encouraging to hear that someone such as Catherine Zeta-Jones, who seems almost perfect, has persevered with it amid the challenges it constantly presents. Curious about who else has succeeded with bipolar disorder? The list is actually quite extensive, so we’ve decided to compile just a few. Whether you’re in high school, college or entrenched in the real world, and you’ve been diagnosed as bipolar, know that with a little help, you can do anything.

  1. Catherine Zeta-Jones, actress: While scanning the recent headlines, you may have seen that Zeta-Jones checked into a facility to treat her bipolar II disorder, a high-risk form of bipolar disorder that includes at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. In the last year, she has dealt with her husband Michael Douglas’s battle with Stage 4 throat cancer, which has certainly added great stress to her life. She recently spoke to People Magazine: "If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help."
  2. Russell Brand, actor and comedian: Known and beloved for his eccentric behavior, it’s almost as if Brand’s manic depression is just a part of his persona. However, it can be attributed as the source of many of his problems, including substance abuse, self-mutilation and bulimia. Brand has been clean and sober since 2002 and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. His success hit an all-time high when he recently starred in Get Him to the Greek.
  3. Demi Lovato, actress and singer-songwriter: Just 18 years old, Lovato seemingly has a lifetime of experience under her belt. She has reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 top albums chart, starred in several Disney movies, and has battled bipolar disorder and depression from a young age. She revealed her illness not long after Zeta-Jones did the same, telling People, "I feel like I am in control now where my whole life I wasn’t in control."
  4. Frank Bruno, boxer: The former WBC heavyweight champion was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003, which he partially attributed to his use of cocaine. Although it’s not characteristic for boxers to admit or show weakness, he has spoken publically about mental health and has even offered to help former English professional footballer Paul Gascoigne, who has undergone treatment for the disorder.
  5. Jean-Claude Van Damme, actor: During the height of his popularity in the action film genre, Van Damme began experiencing bipolar disorder and bouts with cocaine addiction. In 1998, he was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder, which includes four or more episodes per year. He has since overcome addiction and stays busy, and appears in several films due for release in 2011.
  6. Pete Wentz, musician: Wentz once told Q magazine, "I have manic depression. I obsess over everything. When I am depressed, I can’t get out of bed." In 2005, he attempted suicide once he became overwhelmed with negative thoughts, but he rebounded to release platinum and double platinum albums with Fall Out Boy. In addition to his musical contributions, he’s often praised for his philanthropy, specifically his involvement with Invisible Children and UNICEF’s Tap Project.
  7. Stephen Fry, actor and writer: Known for being a member of the English comedy duo Fry and Laurie among many other things — he’s also recognized as a journalist, playwright, poet and film director — it’s difficult to imagine Fry as someone who’s endured the effects of bipolar disorder. He hasn’t fully embraced treatment, though. He explained that decision by telling The Independent, "It’s tormented me all my life with the deepest of depressions while giving me the energy and creativity that perhaps has made my career."
  8. Mariette Hartley, actress: Hartley has a family history of mental illness and therefore fully understands its impact. Her father committed suicide when she was in her early 20s and she began drinking at the age of 14 to compensate for her depression. After being misdiagnosed as depressed just twice — and prescribed antidepressants that worsened her condition — she began dealing with bipolar disorder in the proper manner. In order to help others, she has spoken about her struggles and founded the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  9. Jack Irons, drummer: After leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then-25-year-old Irons was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It affected his music career, but with the right treatment, he made strides with his mental health. In 1998, as a member of Pearl Jam, he explained his improvement to Modern Drummer Magazine: "Gradually over time, I figured out activities and strategies to help me get through. I used alternative means, such as acupuncture and holistic medicine in conjunction with the medications."
  10. Brian Wilson, musician: The Beach Boys weren’t quite the same when Wilson went MIA due to his mental health issues and drug abuse. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, he dealt with uncontrollable voices in his head and a number of other problems that were exacerbated by his addiction. Fortunately, a combination of antidepressants has enabled him to rejoin the band and perform again in recent years.
  11. Carrie Fisher, actress: Many Star Wars fans were surprised when Carrie Fisher revealed her battle against bipolar disorder. She was initially diagnosed at age 24, but because she was in denial, she didn’t receive treatment until the age of 28. Previously addicted to prescription medication, she now receives electroshock therapy treatments as a method to deal with the illness.
  12. Dick Cavett, journalist: Like many students who go off to college, Cavett began suffering a bout with depression during his freshman year at Yale. Although it was successfully treated at the time, he experienced an episode of disorientation in 1980, and in 1997, he was sued for breach of contract because he failed to show up to a nationally syndicated radio program due to a manic episode. Cavett has been candid about his mental illness — appropriate given his adeptness at discussing important, often unexplored issues on his talk show.
  13. Margaret Trudeau, former First Lady of Canada: Thrust into the Canadian national spotlight at the age of 22 when she married then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Margaret Trudeau has seen many ups and downs in her life. She struggled to make a living after their divorce, and was forced to face the mental illness that was plaguing her life. Since 2006, she has undertaken numerous speaking engagements in an effort to reduce the stigma associated with the disorder.
  14. Linda Hamilton, actress: Hamilton spent two decades attempting to treat her mental illness — her instability was reflected in her movie characters and resulted in her failed marriage to actor Bruce Abbott. Because her life has changed for the better since she discovered the problem and addressed it, she has spoken publically about it — like Trudeau and several other of the successful individuals on this list — hoping to "destigmatize the words mental illness" and spread hope.
  15. Richard Dreyfuss, actor: An Academy Award-winning actor and outspoken political activist, it’s no surprise Dreyfuss is comfortable enough in his own shoes to share his struggles with bipolar disorder, the symptoms of which, as you might expect, fueled his sometimes eccentric behavior. According to Dreyfuss, his "pharmaceutical regime" has enabled him to start a family and reclaim his career.
  16. Sinead O’Conner, singer-songwriter: From tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II at Madison Square Garden to becoming a mother, it’s been a long strange trip for Sinead. Her abusive upbringing and immense fame worsened her mental state, and she eventually attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday, four years before she was diagnosed as bipolar. Now, however, she says she has a new outlook on life.
  17. Ned Beatty, actor: Beatty has forged a career as one of the film industry’s most reliable supporting men, and believe it or not, many of those who’ve worked with him never knew he suffered from bipolar disorder. It’s not something he’s recently discovered — he was diagnosed with Type 2 when he was in his early 20s, well-before he memorably appeared in Deliverance.
  18. Patty Duke, actress: Before Duke was diagnosed, she attempted suicide five times, a turbulent existence for former Academy Award winner. She got her life in order after her 1982 diagnosis and publically disclosed her struggles in 1987, becoming the first celebrity to do so. Since then, she has been educating the public on mental illness, even lobbying Congress on the issue.
  19. Jane Pauley, journalist: At a 2008 fundraiser, Pauley summarized the severity of the disorder, describing it as "an isolating disease." Her first episode occurred when she was 50, almost 30 years into her established career in which she hosted The Today Show and Dateline NBC. "At best, I enjoyed a few weeks of high-octane creativity and confidence, but after that, it was just an idling engine on overdrive. The intensity of thought was exhausting. Living with me had to be very hard." The productivity wasn’t worth the pain, and she sought help to solve the problem.
  20. Patrick Kennedy, former U.S. Representative: It has been well-documented that being a Kennedy can be quite difficult. Former eight-term congressman Patrick Kennedy has been in and out drug rehabilitation facilities since he was a teenager, but his status as a member of one of the most privileged families in America ensures he hasn’t received a ton of sympathy. Nevertheless, he’s open about his struggles with bipolar disorder, and has chosen to change his life because of it, opting to no longer serve in office.

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