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Alan Ritchson, star of Amazon’s hit series, ‘Reacher,’ is sharing new details of how he manages living with bipolar disorder. Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Amazon Prime Video
  • Actor Alan Ritchson addresses his bipolar disorder diagnosis in a new interview.
  • The disorder is characterized by manic and depressive episodes.
  • Experts say that high-profile people speaking about mental health is crucial to breaking down stigma.

Alan Ritchson, the star of Amazon Prime’s Reacher series, is speaking candidly about living with bipolar disorder.

Ritchson is a towering man; he’s six-foot-three and known as much for his superhero physique as his leading-man persona on television. So, he might not be the first person that comes to mind when you think of mental illness. Now he’s addressing it head-on in a new interview with Men’s Health and shedding light on his diagnosis.

Now 41, Ritchson says he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 36. With the help of a psychiatrist and his wife, he’s learned how to live with and control his behavior.

“I am always happy to see celebrities and high-profile people sharing their experiences and mental health struggles. Of course, I am never happy to see/hear people struggling, but it normalizes mental illness and helps people feel less alone in a world that can feel quite lonely at times,” Dr. Rachel Goldman, PhD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in NYC, and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at New York University, told Healthline.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by pronounced changes in a person’s behavior, characterized by periods of mania and depression.

A manic episode is a hyperactive state in which the person feels energetic, has racing thoughts, sleeps less, takes part in harmful behaviors, and feels important or powerful.

A depressive episode is the opposite: the individual may feel lethargic, sad, oversleep, and have trouble making decisions.

Ritchson told Men’s Health that a manic episode can manifest for him in a small way, like obsessing over a new pair of shoes — and then buying 8 different kinds that look the same.

He also describes it as feeling like something “isn’t living up to its best potential.”

“It usually comes out in a very — not in a mean way — but in a ‘this has to be better’ way. Like a very, almost obsessive ‘this has to be better,’” he said in the interview.

Symptoms and severity can vary from person to person with bipolar disorder, but Ritchson tends to deal with mania more often than depression. His work schedule keeps him busy enough that he often works through depressive episodes.

“When I’m feeling depressed, it doesn’t really matter because I am so focused at work. I could go weeks without people even knowing I feel a certain way,” he said.

There are three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar 1, bipolar 2, and cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar 1 is the most severe form and is characterized by manic episodes that last at least seven days and depressive episodes that last around two weeks. With bipolar one, manic episodes can be severe enough to require hospitalization.

Bipolar 2 still maintains the hallmark manic and depressive episodes, but the symptoms are less severe.

Cyclothymic disorder is the most mild form of bipolar disorder.

Ritchson doesn’t specify his exact diagnosis in the interview, but the age of diagnosis could be an indicator.

“There are two main types of bipolar. The more severe one is called bipolar 1. Those patients usually get diagnosed around their late teens or early twenties,” Dr. Po Wang, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medicine, told Healthline.

“Bipolar 2 episodes are not necessarily as severe. It can be a little bit delayed…So thirty-something is not too out of the ordinary for a diagnosis. That doesn’t mean they don’t have symptoms before then,” said Wang.

It can be difficult to identify bipolar disorder before it is diagnosed. Although there may be behavioral changes, they can be normalized and explained away. But, over time, a pattern can emerge of manic and depressive episodes that are indicators of bipolar disorder.

“When these symptoms become problematic in our life, we need to flip that sort of normality viewpoint into ‘maybe there’s something going on,’ and accept that these symptoms sometimes are pathologic,” said Wang.

“If you notice a recent change in your mood or behaviors (i.e., appetite, sleep, etc.) and it’s more than just feeling like you are having an off day, then I would recommend seeking help,” said Goldman.

The question of when and how to seek help is a difficult one, but it shouldn’t be.

“If you are thinking about seeking help, or questioning if you should seek professional help, then it can’t hurt. Make the call and have a consultation,” said Goldman.

She adds that when symptoms are beginning to take a toll on your life — daily functioning, work, and personal relationships — it is definitely time to speak to a medical professional.

Bipolar disorder may not fit the same pattern for everyone, so paying attention to behavioral changes is important, even if they don’t fit the model of a manic episode followed by a depressive episode.

Both Wang and Goldman praised Ritchson for speaking out and helping to change the narrative around bipolar disorder.

Looks can be deceiving, Wang points out.

“We have an idea of what celebrities’ lives are like: they are successful. And Ritchson is very athletic, so he looks healthy, right?” said Wang. “So the other part of this conversation that is super important is when we see people who look healthy, and they can say, ‘I have problems too.’”

“Sharing stories around mental health and talking so honestly and openly around mental health helps break the stigma. I also think it is wonderful, and important, for people to see that individuals who are successful also struggle with their mental health,” said Goldman.

Actor Alan Ritchson, 41, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 36. He’s now discussing life with mental illness in a new interview.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of energy and impulsive behavior (manic episode) and periods of melancholy and lethargy (depressive episode).

The disorder can sometimes be hard to spot, so it is important to watch for behavioral changes that seem out of the ordinary and can become part of a pattern.

Mental health experts praised Ritchson for speaking openly about his diagnosis and breaking down the stigma of mental illness.