Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catherine Zeta Jones: Mentally Ill and Shame-Free

Upon hearing the announcement in the news this week from Catherine Zeta Jones’ spokesperson that the actress was recently hospitalized for mental health treatment of Bipolar II Disorder, my heart leapt. This disorder, which typically involves a mix of hypomanic and depressive episodes that interfere with your ability to function consistently well on a daily basis, is fairly serious. When I heard the news, I was so shocked that I could hardly contain my feelings – let alone identify them. Yet after reflecting on the announcement for a minute longer, my thoughts on the subject crystallized. Think about it: When was the last time a famous person came out publicly and admitted that his or her hospitalization was for mental illness?

As a psychologist who trained in New York City and was exposed to the rich and famous who had their fair share of breakdowns, I could (unethically) share a laundry list of celebrities who sought mental health treatment at private locations in the city or in neighboring areas and yet never breathed a word about their mental issues in public. If news of some problems, or even a hospitalization surfaced, the reason was always shrouded in layers of nuance – or even lies. Celebrity A was hospitalized for “exhaustion,” while Celebrity B was seeking treatment for "stress." Let me tell you the truth about such hospitalizations: they almost ALWAYS involve some sort of underlying mental health issue.

Why the cover-up then? One word: shame.

It’s fine to be overworked and exhausted, and even accepted or, rather, expected to be a celebrity and have drug or alcohol issues – but to have a mental illness, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder? Forget it! No one ever wants to admit to such issues for fear that the world will label them c-r-a-z-y.

When I read the actual statement from Ms. Zeta Jones’ spokesperson, the truth was right there for the whole world to see: she’s dealing with Bipolar II Disorder. Big deal, right? She’s human, so it shouldn’t surprise us that she may be struggling with any number of personal issues. But the stigma around mental illness is so powerful that most people never come forward and tell the truth. It’s for this reason that I have such profound admiration for Catherine Zeta Jones. With the announcement, she is presenting herself honestly and authentically, and reminding us that there is no reason to be ashamed of dealing with mental issues. After all, if people aren’t ashamed to say they have high blood pressure, why on earth should they be ashamed to say that they are dealing with mental health issues?

At the end of the day, mental health problems are no one’s fault – everyone is simply doing the best they can to get by. And, my goodness, life can be hard and challenging – particularly when you have a spouse who has been dealing with a medical illness as the actress’ husband has in the recent past. For those who struggle with mental illness, my heart goes out to you because navigating it is not easy. For Ms. Zeta Jones, specifically, you deserve a standing ovation for your strength. You are a true trailblazer, and I know that you are helping to reduce the stigma of mental illness with your courageous actions.

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