Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, affects men and women equally, with about 5.6 million adult Americans (2.6 percent of the population) diagnosed with the condition — including many famous people.
The erratic behavior of some celebrities with mental illness is often attributed to this condition, since bipolar disorder is characterized by disabling mood shifts during which a person goes from an energetic, manic phase to a low, depressed one.
The mood swings of bipolar disorder may be mild or extreme. They can come on slowly or quickly within hours to days. Usually diagnosed in the teenage years to mid-twenties, bipolar disorder can happen at any age and is more prevalent in those who have a family history of the condition.
There are two common subtypes of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. There are other subtypes, most notably cyclothymia, in which patients have depressive and hypomanic symptoms but don’t meet the full criteria for either a major depressive episode or a hypomanic episode.
With bipolar I disorder, people will experience at least one manic episode in their lifetime, and will likely also experience episodes of major depression. You may alternate between extreme states of depression and intense mania. With the mania, you may be unusually elated, hyperactive, and exceptionally talkative, with no need for rest or sleep for days. You may have irritability, racing thoughts, distractibility, and engagement in impulsive or risky behaviors. People with bipolar I disorder may also experience psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, paranoia, or grandiose delusions. This disorder often results in psychiatric hospitalization, and requires long-term treatment with medication. Once bipolar I begins, it characteristically continues throughout a person’s life.
Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but a related diagnosis. With bipolar II disorder, people will have at least one episode of major depression and at least one episode of hypomania, which is similar to mania but with less severe symptoms and shorter duration. While both mania and hypomania exhibit grandiose mood and reduced need for sleep, hypomania is a period of incredible energy, charm, and productivity, which is often associated with super-achievers.
Hypomania may be good for some people, but for many people it is uncomfortable, disruptive, and problematic (though not to the degree of a full manic episode, by definition). Manic and hypomanic episodes have the same set of symptoms, and for both you need to have either irritable or elevated mood and increased energy plus three to four additional symptoms, which can include pressured speech, decreased need for sleep, grandiosity, distractability, racing thoughts, increase in goal-directed activity, or risky/impulsive behaviors.
Hypomanic episodes last at least four days and are not severe enough to result in hospitalization or significant functional impairment, and do not have associated psychotic features. Some people do function well during these periods and there is a historical association between bipolar spectrum illnesses and artists; however, many do not do well during hypomania, and then also suffer the major depressive episodes. Both bipolar I and bipolar II disorder require treatment.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. But several factors may play a role, including:
- Physical changes in the brain Both biochemical and environmental factors play a role in bipolar disorder. Researchers think that imbalances in neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that regulate mood, may trigger this condition. While the meaning of these brain changes is not known, this discovery may help identify bipolar causes in the future.
- Genetics Experts believe that of all mental health problems, bipolar disorder has the greatest linkage to genes. Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with the condition.
Risk factors for an episode of bipolar disorder may include having times of high stress, such as the death of a loved one or another traumatic event. Drug and alcohol use are also often associated with bipolar disorder.
Though it’s difficult to confirm if famous people have bipolar disorder, this condition crops up more often among artists, singers, poets, and celebrities. Many celebrities with mental illness, both now and in years past, are thought to have had bipolar disorder. Here’s a closer look at 13 famous people with bipolar disorder.