14 Real-Life Bipolar Disorder Survivors

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Bradley Cooper plays a bipolar character in "Silver Linings Playbook." But in real life, this often misunderstood mental illness has touched (and destroyed) the lives of more people than you probably realize – from actors and musicians to athletes and scientists.

Bradley Cooper made audiences laugh in comedies like “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover.” He also made women drool as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011.

But in his latest endeavor, he’s neither funny nor sexy: He plays a bipolar character in “Silver Linings Playbook.” The movie – which recently won a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award, and eight Oscar nominations – has been praised for bringing awareness to mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

“I salute Bradley Cooper and all those who produced this wonderful movie,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy – himself bipolar – at a press conference earlier this month. “Because in a real sense what they did was give a face and a voice to this issue.”

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is characterized by periods of pronounced moods that can range from crippling depression to hyperactive mania and that can last months. According to the National Institutes of Health, it affects nearly 6 million adults in the U.S. – 2.6 percent of the adult population.

Prominent people affected by the disorder:

  • Classical composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder.
  • Comedian and actor Russell Brand went public about his diagnosis in his 2007 book, “My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up.”
  • Rapper and actor DMX (born Earl Simmons), also known for a history of legal trouble, has admitted he struggles to separate his professional and private personae. “X, X is the bad guy,” he told Arizona’s ABC15 in 2011. “I used to be really clear about who was what and what characteristics each personality had, but at this point I’m not even sure there is a difference.”
  • Film, TV, and Broadway actress Patty Duke, who won an Oscar at age 16 and later won several Emmys, became a mental health advocate after going public about her diagnosis in the 1980s.
  • Emmy-winning actress Carrie Fisher – best remembered for playing Princess Leia in “Star Wars” – has admitted to being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, a less extreme form of classical bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar I disorder.
  • Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison has devoted her life to studying mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression. Currently at Johns Hopkins University, she teaches psychiatry and co-runs the Mood Disorders Center. She has also written several books about mood disorders, including one in which she chronicles her own struggle with bipolar disorder, “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.”
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, who committed suicide, is believed to have been bipolar and alcoholic.
  • Grammy-winning singer Sinead O’Connor, perhaps most remembered for tearing up a photo of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992, was diagnosed about a decade later. “It explained a lot about being angry, fighting with people, being suicidal,” she told The Guardian. “Being diagnosed meant I actually had a chance of being a normal person.”
  • Journalist Jane Pauley wrote about her illness in her 2004 book, “Skywriting: A Life out of the Blue.”
  • Basketball player Delonte West told CBSSports.com in 2010, “Bipolar is like, when things are bad to you, they seem worse; and when things are good, they seem great.” The Dallas Mavericks guard also suffers from insomnia, which is common among people with mood disorders.
  • Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse, who died at age 27 from an alcohol overdose in 2011, had admitted to having bipolar disorder.
  • Author Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide by drowning herself, is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder.
  • Golden Globe-, SAG-, Oscar-, and Tony-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones‘ husband (actor Michael Douglas) shared her diagnosis on “Oprah” in 2011, after Zeta-Jones spent time at a mental health facility. Unlike other celebrities, however, she prefers privacy. “I’m sick of talking about it,” she told “Good Morning America” last December. “I never wanted to be the poster child for this, and I never wanted this to come out publicly.”

What to do if you or someone you love is affected

Get help. Bipolar is much better understood today than in years past, and much less stigmatized. If you’re not sure about the symptoms, answer this questionnaire from Mental Health America.  And if you feel you or someone you love may suffer from the illness, talk to a family doctor and get a referral to a mental health specialist. You can also call 1-800-273-TALK for referrals to professional resources in your area.

While bipolar disorder may not be the easiest thing to address, doing so beats the alternative.

Stacy Johnson

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