Bipolar Disorder on the Cover of People Magazine?

Well, Okay. So it’s actually a gorgeous picture of Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Still, it brings one more mental illness into the light, with a matter-of-fact movie star who says it shouldn’t be a big deal. I wrote my first-ever letter to the editor after reading this week’s issue, which also contained a similar admission from Disney darling Demi Lovato.

In case it doesn’t make it to print (hey, I tried), this is what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

The best kind of applause to both Catherine Zeta Jones and to Demi Lovato for their courage in refusing to be ashamed about an illness that just happens to affect a body organ known as the brain. As Zeta-Jones so beautifully put it, “There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.” And Ms. Lovato has, I hope, inspired others of her generation to be open and accepting of their diagnoses and the treatment that helps. As the mother of a wonderful kid who developed schizophrenia in his late teens (a common timetable for those with gradual-onset schizophrenia), I look forward to the day when my son – who, by the way, is in recovery with the help of treatment, patience, and love – and others with schizophrenia can speak as openly about their illness as well. While bipolar disorder is essentially a mood disorder and schizophrenia’s cluster of symptoms is more accurately described as a thought disorder, there are many areas in common. The greatest- and most shameful – of these is the presence of stigma. One day I hope my son – and the many others who have a diagnosed mental illness – will receive the same amount of respect, understanding, acceptance and research dollars as those who have illnesses that affect other organs of the body. Once again: brava, ladies! 

Randye Kaye
author: Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from the Chaos of Schizophrenia to Hope
(Rowman & Littlefield, summer 2011)
Family-to-Family teacher and trainer for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

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