For better or worse, when a prominent figure reveals his struggle with mental illness, the world listens. Hopes. Empathizes. Relates. Those who are coping with the same illness appreciate the public sharing of his pain and suffering and realize, thankfully, that they are not alone. When a celebrity emerges from rehab scarred, but no worse for the wear, we begin to understand that there is hope for the rest of us. We can learn to control our demons and our dark days knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t another train coming. There is great comfort in knowing that several respected celebrities —Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Karen Carpenter, Aretha Franklin—have shared similar struggles.
Many famous people have had or currently battle mental illness. One web site lists some 300, including Ludwig von Beethoven, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Alanis Morrisette, Billy Joel and even Jean-Claude Van Damme. The fact is, if you are battling mental illness, you are not alone. Even people whose lives are seemingly perfect are not immune. Seeking professional help is not a character flaw; in fact, it makes one stronger! Explore the experiences of the celebrities listed here:
Rosie O’Donnell: The talk show host, actress and comedienne has talked extensively about her life-long battle with depression. Says O’Donnell, “Anyone concerned about the stigma of taking medication for depression should know that it saved my life.” When she began taking antidepressants, O’Donnell also started yoga and inversion therapy. O’Donnell has also revealed that she has seasonal affective disorder.
Marie Osmond: Osmond is one of the most sympathetic entertainers to speak about mental illness. She had a breakdown in 1999 and told The Daily Mail that things started to spiral downhill after the birth of her son, Matthew.
Brian Wilson: The former Beach Boy and Grammy-award winning singer/songwriter has several mental illness issues, including schizoaffective disorder that caused him to suffer from delusions similar to schizophrenia and to hear voices constantly. With medication and therapy, Wilson has learned to control the voices and ease his depression and anxiety.
Brooke Shields: Shields battled post-partum depression after her daughter Rowan was born and in her darkest moments, seriously considered suicide. “I believed I should not exist,” says Shields. “The baby would be better off without me. Life was never going to get better — so I better just go. Finally I did fight. And I survived.”
Buzz Aldrin: The astronaut who flew to the moon battles depression and alcoholism. Through therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous, Aldrin has been sober for more than 30 years and has served as chairman of the National Mental Health Association.
Catherine Zeta-Jones: In 2011, the Oscar winning actress/singer checked herself into a mental health facility for treatment and revealed that she had been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Says Zeta-Jones, “I have a British stiff-upper-lip mentality; it wasn’t something I wanted to shout from the rooftops. But when it did come to light, I knew I was not the only person who suffered with it or had to deal with it on a day-to-day basis.”
Jim Carrey: The actor and comedian has openly discussed his history of depression and addictions to alcohol and prescription medication. He took Prozac for a while, but now uses faith and living in the moment to control his illnesses.
Patty Duke: The Academy Award-winning actress discussed her bipolar disorder in the autobiographical made-for-TV movie “Call Me Anna” and her autobiography, “A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness.” She remembers the day her psychiatrist said, “I think you’re manic-depressive.” “My reaction was… God, it has a name. This thing that had floated and spiked and fallen actually had a name. It was almost as if, ‘See? I’m not crazy, it has a name!’” After taking lithium prescribed by her psychiatrist, Duke realized there was an absence of those negative disruptive impulses.
J.K. Rowling: Depression hit the Harry Potter author when her first marriage broke down after just two years. She credits writing her first Harry Potter novel with helping her overcome the depression.
Carrie Fisher: The Star Wars star and best-selling author has talked and written at length about her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder, most notably in her memoirs “Wishful Drinking” and “Shockaholic”. “I thought if I could ever get this to be funny, it would be brilliant,” she said of her mental health struggle. “But it took a really long time. My life dealing with the bipolar situation was far from funny.”
Jon Hamm: The Mad Men star had a lot of dark days after losing his father at age 20. “I was…unmoored by that. I struggled with chronic depression. I was in bad shape.” Therapy and antidepressants helped to pull him out and give him another perspective.
Unfortunately, many still view mental illness as a moral, rather than a medical or developmental, issue. As a result, they tend to pass judgment, refuse to talk about it or hope it’ll just go away. Ignoring mental health issues may result in people becoming paralyzed with the fear of being judged by others or thinking they’re somehow to blame for their illness. Having a family member, teacher, neighbor or friend say, “just try harder” or “get over it” doesn’t help. Mental illness is treatable and doesn’t mean that one has failed as a human being. While perhaps not as visible as a cold or a broken leg, mental health issues are diagnosable and treatable. Seeking professional help, understanding the illness and its effects, participating in the prescribed treatment, and educating society about mental health issues removes much of the fear, misunderstanding, and stigma associated with mental illness. A key factor is courage. Through their courage in sharing their stories, celebrities often help us to find our own courage and begin our own recovery.
Sources: Psych Central, National Alliance on Mental Illness, US Weekly Magazine