Health.com has come up with a list of celebrities who confessed in 2011 to having serious health issues, which is great because poring over back issues of People magazine would be enough to make me increase my meds. What strikes me is that those celebs with behavioral health issues are treated the same as those with issues like autoimmune illnesses. That’s progress. Instead of being deemed “crazy,” they’re being characterized as dealing with a health problem. So Catherine Zeta-Jones’ bipolar disorder is on the same list of health issues as Kim Kardashian’s psoriasis. The only problem with this is that Kim Kardashian exists at all. Also mentioned: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), who struggled with alcohol dependence but now seems to be doing well. He told People in July:
“I’m actually enjoying the fact that I can have a relationship with my girlfriend [Olive Uniacke] where I’m really pleasant and not fucked up totally all the time … As much as I would love to be the person that goes to parties and has a couple of drinks and has a nice time, that doesn’t work for me. I’d rather just sit at home and read, or go out to dinner with someone, or talk to someone I love, or talk to somebody that makes me laugh.”
As for Zeta-Jones, she wasn’t planning to discuss her bipolar disorder openly, but was forced to when the tabloids would did the job for her. Pretty despicable. When Michael Douglas appeared on Oprah, he blasted to tabs for “outing” her. Not all celebs want to serve as poster children for their conditions—nor should they have to. It was probably the last thing she needed after a psychiatric hospitalization.
To be honest, I don’t really know who Amber Portwood is because I never watch that show Teen Mom. But the reality show star is coming out about her diagnoses: bipolar disorder and dissociative disorder. From E! News:
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder three years ago. I struggle with it. I hate it. I grieve over it,” the Teen Mom star told E! News exclusively. “When I went to rehab for two months, they diagnosed me with disassociative disorder too, which makes me black out. People don’t understand what it’s like.”
Apparently, Portwood has been a bit scandalous on the show for beating up her baby’s father (she was charged with domestic battery). She was admitted to a “rehab” facility for anger management and depression in August after a suicide attempt. In October she said she was still suicidal. And now comes the confession of the illness in the wake of an episode in a restaurant in which she lashed out at fellow customers. It’s all quite sad, though it seems like viewers of the show really hate her (the comments on the article are vicious).
It’s odd that E! News’ headline is “Teen Mom’s Amber Portwood: ‘I’ve Been Diagnosed With Extreme Bipolar and Disassociative Disorder‘”. I don’t see her using the word “extreme” in the article, nor can I imagine anyone saying that since its not exactly DSM-friendly. But I guess E! liked the sound of it.
A lot of times when we hear about suicides in the news, we think of how horrible it was for the person who died, and how awful for the survivors like family and friends. We review the news reports and wish we could have been there, somehow, like an angel on the shoulder, to inspire hope in the person in the moments before they made the fatal decision.
Take the suicide of Joaquin Luna, who, according to his family, was so disheartened by his immigration status (he was undocumented), he took his own life. Despite incredible design skills and intelligence, he believed his future as an engineer was impossible because he didn’t have a Social Security number. When you hear something like that, don’t you just wish you could travel back in time, fly into his bedroom the night before, and talk him out of it, suggesting resources to him and providing some perspective? He was only 18. He just needed to understand that things would change.
Brad Pitt, of all people, was apparently really helpful in delivering that message in a sensitive manner the other day at a screening of Moneyball. According to the New York Post:
During a Q&A session following the film, a choked-up man stepped to the microphone. “I can’t talk,” he said, rambling for a minute before sharing, “I found this movie completely inspiring. This is coming from a guy who’s been contemplating suicide. I understand the importance of putting things in perspective, so…”
Pitt didn’t skip a beat in responding to the man’s very personal comment.
“It certainly is about perspective and a bigger view and about the long run,” said Pitt. “I think that’s something we often forget with art is that there’s the long run. Things are cyclical. When you’re up, you’re up and when you’re down, you’re down. But it’s moving — always moving. I think that’s an important thing to remember. And it’s a big part of this film.”
He later added, “Man, it’s cyclical. You can be down, but then you come back up again, and every failure can lead to success.”
The attendees of the screening were moved by Pitt’s response.
“It was a touching moment,” a witness told Us Weekly. “As he left the theatre he even stopped to talk with the guy to offer him some more words of encouragement because he was obviously fragile.”‘
Another attendee said, “Brad handled the situation really well. It was a difficult moment that shocked everyone.”
Can you imagine the difference it made to that guy that Brad Pitt wasn’t put off by the tears and the vulnerability? That he simply spoke to him frankly and with humanity? It’s great. And we read that and think, “Yeah, that is what he should tell him, because it is cyclical and he’ll feel better and …”
I think most people who read such stories just want a big sign to flash over the world: DON’T GIVE UP. And who, more than anyone else, wants that sign to flash brightest? Those of us who have been there. We can’t bear to hear about someone else in despair who takes their life, but we all too easily contemplate that option when we’re depressed.
Why can’t we apply our own kindness and passion for hope to ourselves in those lost moments? Why is it utterly tragic when someone else (a stranger) dies but maybe-not-so-terrible if we do? Is it a problem with self-esteem? Is it that we’re simply exhausted? Is it that we can’t imagine that other person experiencing the pain we feel? Or is it simply a biochemical hiccup that can’t be explained?
Here’s a tremendously un-PC question: Is it conceivable that some people who kill themselves are making the right decision to do so?
No? It’s not?
Then the next time you’re feeling bad, remember this message applies to you: DON’T GIVE UP.
Okay, actually, it’s not depression. But since this is a category I’ve used for a long time, it seemed like a good headline. Megan Fox isn’t depressed, though. She simply has OCD. From USA Today:
“I could go days, weeks, without talking to another human being,” she swears. “I hate receiving compliments; I hate being told I’m talented or people think I’m going to be a movie star. I always feel that it’s forced and fake.”
She admits she has obsessive compulsive disorder. “This is a sickness, I have an illness — this is not OK anymore,” she says.
She refuses to use public toilets without covers or eat with restaurant silverware. “Every time someone uses a bathroom and they flush, all the bacteria is shot into the air,” she says. “Putting my mouth where a million other mouths have been, just knowing all the bacteria that you carry in your mouth? Ucch!”
I totally sympathize. I don’t even tell people the kinds of things that gross me out because it would be so hard to understand. But the toilet is a real problem for many people with such issues. ‘Cause it’s gross!
To learn more about OCD from someone who doesn’t look anything like Megan Fox, keep your eyes peeled for the amazing movie OC87. It’s an incredibly nuanced look at this concept.
Not because she’s a phenomenal actor, which she is, but because she’s just initiated a new project to banish stigma. The project is highly personal, as she explains on Huffington Post:
As I’ve written and spoken about before, my sister suffers from a bipolar disorder and my nephew from schizoaffective disorder. There has, in fact, been a lot of depression and alcoholism in my family and, traditionally, no one ever spoke about it. It just wasn’t done. The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I’ve seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “psycho”.
What’s remarkable is not her frankness about this personal history, but her motivation to act, which seems almost like a wholesale rethinking of her career and what it’s meant in popular culture. In Fatal Attraction, for example, she played a woman obsessed with Michael Douglas (those were the days, right Michael?). She loses control of the obsession and becomes terrifying. As Close writes, the movie was a great success, and audiences loved to hate her character.
Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate. People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the “whys” of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others.
The original ending of Fatal Attraction actually had Alex commit suicide. But that didn’t “test” well. Alex had terrified the audiences and they wanted her punished for it. A tortured and self-destructive Alex was too upsetting. She had to be blown away.
So, we went back and shot the now famous bathroom scene. A knife was put into Alex’s hand, making her a dangerous psychopath. When the wife shot her in self-defense, the audience was given catharsis through bloodshed — Alex’s blood. And everyone felt safe again.
The ending worked. It was thrilling and the movie was a big hit. But it sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness.
This is a bold admission from a woman who derived so much success from this role, but there’s no escaping what she says. It has long bothered me — and, I suspect, other advocates — that the message there is one of terror and fear.
Not only does Close take on her role in that film, she assesses the entertainment industry as a whole:
Whether it is Norman Bates in Psycho, Jack Torrance in The Shining, or Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, scriptwriters invariably tell us that the mentally ill are dangerous threats who must be contained, if not destroyed. It makes for thrilling entertainment.
There are some notable exceptions, of course — Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or Russell Crowe’s portrayal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. But more often than not, the movie or TV version of someone suffering from a mental disorder is a sociopath who must be stopped.
I like to think that her speaking out will change this. As she so eloquently says, silence is the problem. Read more of her elegant prose here. It is well worth it. There you’ll find links to the initiative she’s promoting.
Thank you, Glenn, for speaking out against silence. You rock.
Larry Frankel fought the good fight for his entire professional life, and his death — a couple weeks ago at the age of 54 — is a huge loss for America. Does that sound overstated? Probably, but I really believe that. Larry was as much a crusader as Ted Kennedy, who was lionized in the wake of his recent death. Frankel didn’t get quite as much attention (understandably), but if you want to know more about him, read his obit here. That just skims the surface of his service. Honor his memory by donating to the ACLU, or by attending his memorial service this weekend. Details:
liz | 2:29 PM | celebrities
First of all:
Ted Kennedy’s Health Care Legacy
Patrick, my condolences on your father’s passing. When your dad’s brothers died, he had to get himself together and stop being an irresponsible, drunken frat boy. He had to become a leader who espoused what they did: social justice, pacifism, equal rights, etc. You have a head start: You made mental health parity happen, and you’ve been engaged in fighting the good fight since the beginning. You’re my hero.
But I also know you’re flawed and troubled, like your dad was, like we all are. The politicians who pretend to be saints tend to fail us, so you just go on being imperfect. And if you need support in your time of grief, just think of us out here, rooting for you to do well. We support you because you’re our voice now. And because we know what it’s like to live with loss. We believe in you. Carry on.
All the below is about this show.
Madigan: They didn’t flatter you with that lighting.
David Oaks: You’re looking so handsome! I had no idea. Your eyebrows are very sexy. (I’m completely sincere.)
“But critics worry …” That’s journalism-speak for “We don’t have any specific sources who say this, but we’ll generalize it so we have reason to focus on …”
… violence. That’s what they’re focusing on. Why am I not surprised?
So of all the things they could talk about related to Mad Pride — and related to mental health — this is what they’ve come up with: criminals and violent crime. Ugh. TV is so predictable and depressing.
Okay, so now we’re telling the story of a kid with hallucinations and delusions (the CIA, yadda yadda) who KILLS HIS MOTHER? Does the average American viewer understand how fucking rare this kind of thing is? That it’s not the necessary result of deciding not to take meds?
On to the withdrawal story: Clearly, the program wasn’t looking for a success story. This poor woman who decided to do the show so they could feed off her misery — I knew that’s what they wanted. Is she doing the withdrawal in conjunction with a doctor? Who the hell knows? The show doesn’t tell you. It hardly tells you her name. And …
Oh! There it is again: “Critics worry … ” (that she’s going to be “a time bomb” without her meds). Who are these critics worrying about this girl? Frank Rich? David Denby? I’d love to know.
“Violence is unpredictable with or without drugs.” Brilliant script.
Blurry homeless images. Madigan cello-ing. … This show is so bad, it’s like a joke. I guess it all goes back to what producer Ia Robinson told me, when we discussed my being on the show: She doesn’t have any friends or family who have mental problems, so the whole topic was like “walking on the moon.” Yes, that’s the phrase she used. The show should’ve been blasted out to Mars.
Except Joey P. He’s delightful and a voice of reason.
liz | 9:34 PM | SCHIZOPHRENIA, alternative treatments, bipolar disorder, celebrities, criminal justice system, depression, hospitals / hospitalization, meds, philadelphia, side effects, stigma, suicide, violence
The New York Times ran an article about Ricky Williams that I think was really well-done. It talks about his struggle with marijuana addiction, which compromised his career in the NFL, but more than that, it portrays his psychic battles and explores the way his mind works. It’s a much more nuanced piece than the type we normally see about sports stars; but equally important, it examines the life of the mind in a way that doesn’t pathologize. Ricky Williams is just Ricky Williams, an interesting, layered human being. I wish people were more often written about this way, especially people with “troubles.”
From the Telegraph (UK):
Friends of the King of Pop have claimed that he “often overdosed” and had been trying to kill himself for a decade. One said: “We’re surprised he even made it to 50”.
The Daily Star reported that insiders believe the financially struggling star “couldn’t face his problems” and wanted a way out.
He would keep the suicide note in his pocket and overdosed, they told the newspaper. “Michael always talked about dying young,” one said. “He wrote suicide notes then tore them up. He kept one with him – he often read it.
“He wanted everyone to know how sad he was.” Another friend told the newspaper that Jackson had wanted to end his life ever since he was humiliated by child abuse claims in the 1990s.
That’s quite sad.