Mariah Carey recently revealed her struggle with bipolar disorder in People magazine. She was diagnosed way back in 2001, but says that she “lived in denial and isolation” as the disease affected her career and her private life. She says that she’s “in a really good place right now,” and hopes that being open about her bipolar II diagnosis will help relieve some of the stigma around it. “It does not have to define you, and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”
During a heated political argument on Twitter, someone accused Lily Allen of being mentally ill. They meant it to be an insult. Allen immediately fired back that she did, in fact, suffer from mental illness – she has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, as well as PTSD from giving birth to a stillborn son in 2010. But she was quick to point out that her mental illness doesn’t diminish the validity of her opinion. Her brutal, unvarnished honesty served to highlight the senseless vulgarity of the people trying to demean her.
Demi Lovato rose to fame quickly as a teen actress in Disney Channel movies like Camp Rock. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, but even then, she’d spent several years struggling. She described long binges of no sleep where she’d write seven songs in one night, followed by hard crashes. Since beginning treatment, she’s launched an awareness campaign called Be Vocal, dedicated to removing the stigma from mental health conversations.
Lots of celebrities have advocated for destigmatizing mental illness, but Maria Bamford has based large swaths of her career around it. Her show Lady Dynamite is inspired by her real-life attempt to get her career back together after checking herself into a psych hospital. She’s written at length about that experience, and talked about dealing with bipolar disorder and OCD in numerous interviews.
Francis Ford Coppola
The beloved director took lithium for four years, starting in the late 1970s, for bipolar disorder. Back then, the condition was more commonly known as “manic depression.” While he hasn’t given a ton of interviews about it, he also hasn’t particularly kept it hidden.
The crime novelist has said that her mental health struggles aren’t as severe as the ones her mother experienced. “I’m bipolar but my moods are more stable. I don’t take medication for it.” Her condition was a factor in a recent lawsuit. She thought it wise to hire a firm to manage her money for her because of it. But they cheated her out of tens of millions of dollars, which was awarded back to her (plus damages) in 2013.
Much was made over Britney Spears’s 2000s behavior. The media was quick to speculate on and sensationalize her behavior, particularly in 2007. Spears has talked a little bit about her bipolar diagnosis – but not as much as other stars like Catherine Zeta Jones or Demi Lovato. But honestly? While advocacy is important, it isn’t the duty of every person with a condition to be an advocate for that condition. If she wants to maintain her privacy, she certainly deserves that much.
Richard Dreyfuss first spoke about his condition in a 2006 documentary called Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. He says that when he got his diagnosis, it put a lot of his life into sudden perspective. “I didn’t know it was a manic state.” It also helped him feel better about his struggles. “It's like being ashamed that you're 5-foot-6 or something. It's just part of me.” A four-year journey to find the right medication helped him regain himself. “I’m able to be Richard again. Things are great.”
Carrie Fisher was given a bipolar disorder diagnosis at age 24, but says that she didn’t accept it until an overdose four years later served as a wake-up call. She was an early trailblazer of mental health awareness, writing brilliant, acerbic memoirs and stage shows about her struggles, and encouraging others to do the hard work of getting well. In an advice column she said, “My comfort wasn’t the most important thing – my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was. However long it might seem to take and however unfair it might seem, it was my job to do it.”
It wasn’t until the age of 37 that Stephen Fry received the diagnosis that put his whole life into perspective. “I'd never heard the word before, but for the first time I had a diagnosis that explains the massive highs and miserable lows I've lived with all my life.” In 2006, he was featured in a film called Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive.
The Australian singer is famously reclusive and anxious, shying away from fame in the midst of success through the use of face paint and oversized wigs. But she also suffers from bipolar disorder, which she’s spoken about while mentoring contestants on American Idol, and in an interview with Howard Stern.
The famous novelist enjoyed a career that spanned nearly 65 years. His short stories are often required reading in high schools (as seen in Donnie Darko) and his screenplay for The Third Man is regarded as a milestone of film noir. Greene was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back when it was called “manic depression,” and the shades of his illness show up in his work as a recurring theme.
Jenifer Lewis’s acting career has stretched from films like Beaches and Sister Act to show like A Different World and Black-ish. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1990. She hid it for years, but after more than a decade of therapy and medication, she started speaking out about the disease – particularly about the denial that the condition ironically causes you.
The indie artist was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17. It’s a condition that she inherited from her mother, and she’s been open about the ways that her mom’s manic behavior occasionally made for a frustrating childhood. The diagnosis came right as she was starting to get attention for her music, and she’s been very clear about how frustrating it can be to have a mood disorder when you’re constantly in the public eye.
The Terminator star is famous for her portrait of strong femininity as Sarah Connor. But she’s also portrait of strength in the face of mental health struggles. She didn’t learn she had bipolar disorder until she was 40, after what she describes as “20 full years of symptoms”. She’s been open about how much medication has helped her, and she’s become an advocate for approaching mental and physical fitness as intertwined issues.
Superman actress Margot Kidder made headlines in the 90s, when she was found wandering the streets in a frightened daze, convinced that her husband was the head of the CIA and was out to kill her. While she claims to be doing much better with now, with no manic or depressive episodes since then, she’s a little irresponsible in her advocacy for “alternative medicine” rather than actual psychiatry or medication for bipolar disorder.
Sinead O’Connor’s aggressive politics have gotten her as much attention as her music. The two came to a head when she ripped a picture of Pope John Paul II in half on Saturday Night Live, earning a lifetime ban from the show. Since then she’s stepped back from controversy and become a mental health advocate, though she still fights with her bipolar disorder. Last year she disappeared after a series of concerning tweets asking for help, and had to be found by a police search party.
The rapper known for “Party Up (Up in Here)” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” has had a number of legal troubles and mental health problems, as well as a long-running string of drug addiction issues. When he told ABC15 that he was suffering from bipolar disorder, it didn’t excuse his problems, but it certainly cast new light on them. X is currently in prison, but he’s still writing music and (last we heard) working on getting a firmer grip on his condition.
Catherine Zeta Jones
Catherine Zeta Jones had a great deal to cope with around 2010-2011. Her husband, Michael Douglas, was battling throat cancer, and she herself began seeking medical help for bipolar disorder. When Tabloids jumped on the sight of a celebrity seeking medical treatment. But rather than let them speculate, she cut them off at the pass by opening up about her condition. It was difficult for her to do, she says, due to her British stiff-upper-lip mentality, but she seems to feel a measure of liberation in being open.
Johnny Manziel made headlines when he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. But he went from being called "Johnny Football" to having two middling seasons of pro football. After that, he was booted from the League for well-documented binge drinking and a domestic assault accusation. He’s since learned that he has bipolar disorder, and looking back, says his drinking was an attempt to cope with his depressive episodes. He’s currently seeking treatment and looking for a return to the NFL.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
The classic 80s action star struggled with rapid mood swings, that turned out to be rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Without a diagnosis he struggled to cope, throwing himself into training with furious passion, and at one point, spending as much as $10,000 on cocaine a week. He credits a mood stabilizing drug called sodium valproate with helping him get a handle on his condition. He quit cocaine cold turkey.
Vivien Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder at a time when the condition wasn’t well-understood and the medications we have now weren’t available. The Gone with the Wind actress was treated with electroconvulsive therapy after a breakdown on the set of Elephant Walk. She also drank a lot, which is common in bipolar disorder in the absence of useful medicine.
Russell Brand went from a stand-up comedian to a TV host to a star of film and TV. He had a hard-partying, bad boy image, but after being diagnosed with a slew of conditions – ADHD, bulimia, pornography addiction, and bipolar disorder, he sobered up, and has become a passionate advocate, not only for mental health, but for the poor and disenfranchised, as well. He’s become an ardent political voice, and a deeply well-thought-out one.
Amy Winehouse blew up as a jazz/pop sensation with her second album in 2006. Not only did she set a record for Grammy awards won by a British woman, she was named “the most charitable act” by a British publication, giving freely of her time, money, and musical effort to charity. She was diagnosed separately with depression and with bipolar, but refused treatment for both. She struggled with addiction, as many people with untreated bipolar disorder do, and passed away from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27.
The Velvet Underground was one of the most influential bands of the 1960s. Brian Eno once joked that while their first record barely sold, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” But frontman Lou Reed struggled most of his life with a bipolar diagnosis and an extremely hostile temperament on top of it. His sister traces his difficulty to a round of unnecessary electroconvulsive therapy in high school.
The Nirvana front man dealt with some mental health struggles. While he himself never confirmed a diagnosis, his cousin Bev Cobain, a registered nurse with a mental health background, has stated that Kurt had diagnoses of bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. And, well, he did write a song about Lithium, the primary drug used to treat bipolar disorder at the time. It’s not really a stretch to think that his cousin is telling the truth.
Some may know Rosemary Clooney from her music career, or classic films like White Christmas. Others may know her as George Clooney’s aunt. But Rosemary Clooney struggled with disordered moods in the midst of her success. In 1968, after the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy, Clooney was committed to a psychiatric hospital. When she got out, she wrote an autobiography, wherein she talked about her struggle with bipolar disorder. She began talking more about mental health, so that others might feel less alone. She lived to the age of 74, when she passed away after a battle with lung cancer.
Charley Pride dealt with a lot of adversity, as one of the earliest black country musicians to take the national limelight. But he’s also struggled with bipolar disorder (“manic depression” at the time he was diagnosed) and said in 1994 that he’d taken medicine for it since 1968. “I still sort of halfway want to deny it. But it’s hard to do that, especially with my wife telling me the stuff I’ve done when I really went out of it.”
Actress Kim Novak dealt with a lot during her career. She came up in Hollywood at its misogynistic best, and studio executives at Columbia constantly pressured her into molding her appearance to fit Harry Cohn’s very narrow view of an ideal woman. In 2001 – decades after she deserved to know – Novak learned that she’d also been dealing with bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She immediately threw herself into raising funds and awareness for mental health.
Patty Duke won an Academy Award at the age of 16 for portraying Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. The following year she was given her own TV show, and from there she had a long, successful (if occasionally rocky) career. She’s also Sean Astin’s mother. In 1982, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and became an early advocate for mental health education.