Zeta-Jones and mental illness

Catherine Zeta-Jones has recently spoken out about her recent diagnosis of bipolar II disorder. Unlike some mental illnesses, this disorder wasn’t something that the actress has struggled with her whole life. According to Dr. Igor Galynker, director of the Family Center for Bipolar Disorder at Beth Israel Medical Center, bipolar disorder can “start at any time in a person’s life and it’s a lifelong illness.” It is mostly brought on by stress due to significant changes in a person’s life.

In her case, Zeta-Jones began noticing a difference in her attitude and behavior shortly after her husband, Michael Douglas, was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer. Catherine made the brave decision to speak openly and plainly to the public about her bipolar II diagnosis.

“This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them,” the actress, 41, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement in this week’s cover story. “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.”

I was very impressed that such a high-profile actress has come out and taken a stand for getting help when help is needed. Learning that one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actresses struggles with this mental illness does not negatively affect my view towards her; in fact, I respect and look up to her even more for recognizing the signs and choosing to do something about it.

I’ve often wondered why sometimes people are ashamed or embarrassed to admit they have a mental problem and need help. They don’t want “help”; they want to be “normal.”

I believe a huge misconception out there is that depression, bipolar disorder and manic behavior can somehow be controlled or dealt with on your own. Having a father as a psychiatrist, I have come to understand that dealing with a mental illness is absolutely no one’s fault; nor should anyone look down upon another person for courageously coming clean about the problem and seeking professional help, whether it be through therapy or medication – often times both – as Catherine Zeta-Jones has done. The truth is, these are the very things that would help a person suffering from a mental illness live that “normal” life they so desperately crave.

The good news is, while many mental illnesses may not be curable, they are absolutely treatable and people who suffer from them can go on to live happy, functional, rich lives with continued treatment. I applaud Catherine Zeta-Jones and her openness and willingness to tackle her disorder and become a stronger woman. To me, it says a lot about her character and confidence to put aside her fears and face them head-on.

Have you or a loved one ever dealt with a mental illness? What were some of the challenges and obstacles you overcame? What were the things that gave you courage and hope?

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