Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that involves mood swings that cycle between extreme highs and lows. These episodes involve periods of elation, known as mania, and bouts of depression. Common symptoms include binge eating, drinking, drug use, sexual promiscuity, and spending sprees. These eight celebrities and famous historical figures have all lived with bipolar disorder.
Russell Brand is a British comedian, actor, and activist. He has made his struggle with bipolar disorder a central focus of his public persona, often referencing it in his performances and writing. He’s known for speaking openly about instability in his past. He withstood an unhappy childhood, a heroin and crack habit, bulimia, and sex addiction. His bipolar disorder has helped shape his career: he’s now known for his intriguing combination of ambition and vulnerability.
After a stressful year watching her husband, Michael Douglas, grapple with a cancer diagnosis, Catherine Zeta-Jones checked herself into a mental health facility for treatment of bipolar II. Bipolar II is a type of bipolar disorder that’s marked by longer bouts of depression and less elevated “up” periods. Zeta-Jones sought treatment briefly to help balance her mental health before going back to work.
She has been very outspoken about managing her disorder. She advocates for de-stigmatizing mental illness and hopes that she can inspire others to seek treatment and support.
The Nirvana front man and cultural icon was diagnosed with ADD at a young age and later with bipolar disorder. Kurt Cobain also struggled with substance abuse and developed a heroin addiction in the years leading up to his death. Despite the massive success of Nirvana, Cobain committed suicide at age 27 after checking himself out of a drug rehabilitation center. Cobain is widely recognized as a creative genius. Nirvana appears at number thirty on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists.
English novelist Graham Greene led a hedonistic life—he would swing from periods of elation or irritability to despair, and was guilty of repeated infidelities. He was an alcoholic who abandoned his wife and children in favor of a series of affairs with married women. He was a devout Catholic who was tormented by his behavior, and expressed the moral struggle between good and evil in his novels, plays, and films.
The famous singer of “I Put a Spell on You” was a prodigious jazz artist. Simone was also a political activist vocal during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. She was prone to fits of rage and was labeled a “difficult diva” in the music industry at the time. She experienced greater freedom of expression and authenticity than a lot of the women of her time. She also ignored pressures to conform to “normal” social conventions. Her biographers explore her bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms in the books “Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone” and “Break It Down and Let It All Out.”
The twice-over Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who achieved victory during World War II was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in middle age. Winston Churchill often referred openly to his depression, calling it his “black dog.” He was known for making the best of his situation and often capitalized on episodes of sleeplessness by directing his energy into his work. He published 43 books during his time as prime minister. He went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
Child actor turned Billboard Top 40 chart-topper Demi Lovato was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011 at the age of 19. She entered a treatment program at the insistence of her family. Like many, Lovato struggled to accept her diagnosis at first, believing that she wasn’t sick and that many people were far worse off than she was. Through hard work she says she’s gradually come to understand and manage her illness.
Lovato spoke openly about her experiences in an MTV documentary titled “Stay Strong.” She said it was her obligation to share her story to help inspire others in the same situation. She also wanted to encourage compassion for those learning to cope with the disorder.
Alvin Ailey grew up in an unstable environment after being abandoned by his father as a child. Ailey suffered from bipolar disorder, which was aggravated by his drinking and drug use. He achieved great success in the American arts landscape as a renowned modern dancer and choreographer.
Bipolar disorder is much more serious than typical emotional ups and downs that everyone experiences from time to time. It’s a lifelong disorder that requires management and support. But as these musicians, actors, politicians, and advocates show, you can still lead a positive and productive life. Your illness is something that you need to manage. It neither controls nor defines you.
Learn about the common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and talk to your doctor if you think that you meet any of the criteria for diagnosis. You can protect your mental health by getting the support you need.