It took courage for actress Catherine Zeta-Jones to publicly announce that she was seeking treatment for bipolar disorder. But, isn't it shameful that getting help for an illness of this kind has to be associated with courage?
The sad fact is that mental illness is still not looked at the way other ailments are; the stigma that you don't see associated with people who have cancer or heart conditions still remains for those who have an illness that affects the brain.
Zeta-Jones, an Oscar-winning actress who starred in "Chicago" and other acclaimed movies, had been coping with the throat cancer of her husband, actor Michael Douglas, and other family issues and felt overwhelmed by her own mental state. So she sought help.
Where she really deserves admiration and respect is in going public with the reason she was being treated, announcing through her publicist that she had been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, which is marked by long periods of depression that alternate with mild mania.
Some actors would rather admit they were seeking help for a drug or alcohol addiction than to tell the world they have a mental illness, and that is a mirror of a nationwide problem that has cloaked brain disorders in stigma. It is understandable that people would be reluctant to share the information when so many people react as if these illnesses are some how the fault of the sufferer or that they could somehow be prevented.
Zeta-Jones told People magazine: "This is a disorder that affects millions of people, and I am one of them. If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently, and there is no shame in seeking help."
With the story getting big play in magazines, TV shows and newspapers, Zeta-Jones is guaranteed to have encouraged more than one person; she likely inspired and educated people across the nation and beyond.
In 2007, the Press-Republican wrote a seven-part, award-winning series focusing on the impact of mental illness on children and their families. The series was designed to educate the public, encourage early treatment and diminish stigma. At that time, families coping with mental illness and local experts in the field affirmed that the stigma issue keeps many people from seeking help and can tarnish the way the sufferers are viewed by co-workers, school staff members and others.
Some changes have occurred since then. Advances have been made toward better parity in insurance coverage for mental-health treatment. Local events, such as an annual march, an art show and the recent Free Your Spirit — Stamp Out Stigma concert, all sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Champlain Valley, raise public awareness. People are more forthcoming in talking about their mental illness. New drugs are available to aid in treatment.
And caring, hard-working and resourceful experts, at places like NAMI and the Mental Health agencies in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, stand ready to help people on their way to recovery.
All they need is the same touch of courage shown by Zeta-Jones.