Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) affects approximately 10 million Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness — and that includes many famous people.
The erratic behavior of creative people is often attributed to this condition, since bipolar disorder is characterized by disabling mood swings during which a person goes from a high, manic phase to a low, depressed one.
Though it’s difficult to verify if this condition actually crops up more often among artists and celebrities, many famous people, both now and in years past, are thought to be bipolar. Here’s a closer look at 12 of them.
2 / 13 Demi Lovato
Actress and singer Demi Lovato, 22, learned she had bipolar disorder after a stint in rehab. In 2010, Lovato entered rehab after dealing with depression, an eating disorder, and self-harm. She discussed her diagnosis in a 2011 interview with People Magazine. “I never found out until I went into treatment that I was bipolar,” she told the magazine. During the interview, Lovato said she had battled depression from a young age.
Recently, the popular songstress talked to HuffPost Live about living with bipolar depression. “I was dealing with bipolar depression and didn’t know what was wrong with me. Little did I know, there was a chemical imbalance in my brain,” she says. “Because I didn’t tell people what I need, I ended up self-medicating and coping with very unhealthy behaviors.”
After therapy and treatment, Lovato says she’s in a good place. “Now I live well with bipolar disorder,” Lovato says. “Happiness is a choice. Life is a roller coaster. You can make the highs as amazing as possible, and you can control how low the lows go.”
3 / 13 Scott Stapp
Creed frontman Scott Stapp recently revealed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In recent months, Stapp made headlines for his alcohol and drug addiction, and erratic behavior. “In my delusional thinking, I thought my family was involved in ISIS, and that millions of dollars had been taken from me to support terrorism,” he tells People Magazine. “All of it was nonsense. I was out of my mind.”
While in an intensive program in a dual diagnostic facility, Stapp was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “It was hard to process,” he says. “There’s a stigma associated with it. But Jaclyn [Stapp’s wife] kept telling me, ‘Embrace it. We love you.’ It became a big sign of relief, because finally, we had an answer.”
Now in intensive therapy, Stapp takes medication for his disorder and is also involved in a 12-step program. “Nothing is more important than my sobriety,” he tells People Magazine.
4 / 13 Catherine Zeta-Jones
Academy Award-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones first became known to movie audiences in the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro. In 2000, she married actor Michael Douglas. The mother of two revealed in April 2011 that she had sought treatment for bipolar II disorder, which is characterized by episodes of hypomania (less severe highs and irritability) alternating with depression.
“After dealing with the stress of the past year, Catherine made the decision to check into a mental health facility for a brief stay,” her publicist announced in a statement.
5 / 13 Vivien Leigh
Best known for her iconic Oscar-winning role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh also captured the public’s attention with her marriage to fellow actor Laurence Olivier. However, Leigh was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her unpredictable behavior eventually ruined her professional reputation and destroyed her marriage to Olivier.
“In her day there were no pills, there were no clinics, there were no publicists, there was nobody between Vivien and an outside world which she found chilly, hostile, and sometimes, because of her mental state, could not cope with,” said her friend Sheridan Morley in a BBC documentary.
6 / 13 Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy turned her into a pop-culture icon. However, partly due to her tumultuous childhood, she struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. In her early 20s, Fisher was told she was hypomanic, but she didn’t believe her doctor.
Over time, however, she came to terms with her condition and became a bestselling author in the process, writing books such as Postcards From the Edge and Surrender the Pink. Becoming a mother was the impetus for this change.
“Prior to having a child, I really did feel, it’s my business if I wanted to stop my medications,” she tells bp Magazine. “I no longer feel that’s so.”
7 / 13 Jean-Claude Van Damme
Belgian kickboxer Jean-Claude Van Damme has appeared in numerous action films, including Bloodsport, Sudden Death, and Universal Soldier. While his movie career took off, though, Van Damme’s personal life was unraveling. He was divorced four times, charged with spousal abuse, and addicted to cocaine.
However, things started to come together after his diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar. He tells E! Online, “You just have to take a little salt [the drug sodium valproate], and since I’m doing that it’s, like, BOOM! In one week, I felt it kick in. All the commotion around me, all the water around me, moving left and right around me, became like a lake.”
8 / 13 Linda Hamilton
Actress Linda Hamilton is best known for her role as Sarah Connor in Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. She also starred in the TV series Beauty and the Beast. Despite her professional success, though, she was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and her bipolar mood swings damaged two marriages.
Hamilton struggled with symptoms of bipolar disorder for 20 years, a time she calls the “lost years,” before overcoming it. Though she initially worried that treatment would diminish her talents, she is now on medication and speaks openly about being bipolar.
“Somebody needs to come out and make this okay for people to talk about and get help and take advantage of the resources,” she tells the Associated Press.
9 / 13 Sinéad O’Connor
Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor often made headlines in the late 1980s and 1990s with her Grammy-winning songs and rebellious attitude. However, as her fame grew in her 20s, she began to suffer from depression.
O’Connor’s depression steadily got worse, including suicidal thoughts, until she was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 37. She talked openly about living with this condition on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007.
“Every pore of you is crying and you don’t even understand why or what,” she says. “I actually kind of died and got born again as a result of taking the meds and having a chance to, you know, build a life.”
10 / 13 Vincent van Gogh
Legendary artist Vincent van Gogh painted some of the world’s best-known works, such as The Starry Night. However, he is also remembered for his difficult, eccentric, and moody personality.
There is no consensus on what medical condition fueled van Gogh’s behavior, though some theories include epilepsy, depression, psychotic attacks, and bipolar disorder.
One article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry says: “Van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist.”
11 / 13 Virginia Woolf
Twentieth-century English novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf is said to have expanded the boundaries of the novel with works such as Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. However, she suffered mood swings and breakdowns throughout her life.
An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry explains her behaviors: “From the age of 13, Woolf had symptoms that today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder; she experienced mood swings from severe depression to manic excitement and episodes of psychosis. In her own time, however, psychiatry had little to offer her.”
12 / 13 Jane Pauley
Television journalist Jane Pauley made her network debut on NBC’s Today Show at the age of 25. She went on to work for the network’s Dateline and later had her own talk show.
At the age of 50, Pauley began experiencing episodes of depression and mania. It is thought that steroids used to treat hives kick-started her symptoms, which were diagnosed as bipolar disorder. She describes her experiences in her bestselling memoir, Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue.
“If we’re lucky, the next generation won’t drag around that personal stigma,” she tells bp Magazine. “They also are going to grow up with a wider array of medications that addresses whatever causes this malady of ours.”
13 / 13 Mariette Hartley
Emmy-winning actress Mariette Hartley has appeared in numerous television shows and starred in a popular series of commercials in the 1970s. However, her family life was troubled — she lost both her father and an uncle to suicide, and her mother also attempted to take her own life. In 1994, Hartley started having suicidal thoughts and was misdiagnosed with depression, and later ADD. The third diagnosis — bipolar disorder — was the correct one.
It was difficult for Hartley to speak publicly about her condition, but she decided to take the chance to educate others. In a USA Today article, the actress emphasizes the importance of getting the right treatment: “If you are on the right medication … stay on it and don’t change. But if it doesn’t seem to be working, then go to a doctor and find the right one for you.”