Academy award-winning actress, wife, mother – and person with bipolar disorder. The honesty and openness with which Catherine Zeta-Jones has discussed her recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder is helping reduce negative stereotypes about the disease, which is believed to affect up to three percent of people in the U.S.
Zeta-Jones addressed her diagnosis in People magazine and on major news networks, stating that she had been working through episodes of life-debilitating depression for many years, even aside from the cancer diagnosis of her husband, Michael Douglas.
The actress said it was her passion for her family and for her acting career that led her to move forward with getting help for her symptoms. She was preparing to embark on a new film project, and also making a decision to enjoy every moment with her family, when she began to explore medical and professional treatment.
Like many who have bipolar disorder, Zeta-Jones thought that she was going through severe depression – but it was in a hospital setting that she received the bipolar disorder II diagnosis. Some of the depression waves were so severe that the actress even struggled to begin her day in the morning. In many people with bipolar disorder, depression is often followed by periods of euphoria, or mania, and can be marked by extreme energy.
Family and peer support is a key element for helping people living with bipolar disorder, say experts. They may struggle to build intimate relationships, and are believed to be at a two to three-times higher risk for divorce. Caring for children and maintaining successful employment can also be difficult for people with this disorder, especially during bouts of severe depression. It is also believed that people with bipolar disorder may be at greater risk for abusing alcohol or drugs in an attempt to escape the stress and anxiety the disease symptoms can cause.
Research indicates the causes of bipolar disorder may be related to malfunctioning neurotransmitters in the brain, and the disease is believed to be connected in families. Doctors have said that life stressors can influence bouts of depression or mania associated with bipolar disorder. It is interesting to note, that as many as 70 percent of people who have the disorder may be initially given a different and incorrect diagnosis. Additionally, the level of intensity of the symptoms can be different from person to person, making bipolar disorder a complex disease to diagnose – strengthening what many say is the positive influence of Zeta-Jones’ willingness to address her disease and give others hope.
Physicians working with Catherine Zeta-Jones have praised her for speaking out about the mental illness and hope her story will encourage others to seek professional help.