By opening up about their diagnosis, these well-known and respected women help put a face to bipolar and improve public understanding of the commonly misunderstood condition.
#1 Jenifer Lewis
The stage and screen actor, singer, and comedian Jenifer Lewis is known for her unabashed comments, brash humor, and outsized personality—not to mention more than 250 film and television credits, including the hit sitcom Black-ish, plus Strong Medicine, The Preacher’s Wife, Beaches, and even the animated Cars franchise. In forums from Oprah to Ebony magazine, Lewis has used her candor and wit to spread the word that bipolar is treatable with medication and talk therapy. She concedes that living with bipolar can be exhausting, but she’s passionate about convincing people of the need to accept the diagnosis and take action.
#2 Catherine Zeta-Jones
In 2011, the Oscar-winning actor revealed she had checked into a facility to treat her bipolar II disorder. Then, in 2013, Zeta-Jones sought additional treatment. Stress is a well-known trigger for both manic and depressive episodes; and, just prior to her hospitalization, Zeta-Jones was also dealing with her husband Michael Douglas’s battle with cancer. Referring to the shock of her husband’s health condition, she said, “When you get sideswiped like that, it’s an obvious trigger.” Although this leading actor did not initially intend to go public with her diagnosis, by being open about it, she is helping to destigmatize bipolar and other brain-based disorders.
#3 Jane Pauley
Jane Pauley is the host of CBS News Sunday Morning. Best known for her 13-year tenure at The Today Show, followed by 11 years at NBC’s Dateline, Pauley is also credited with penning her best-selling memoir, Skywriting (2004), anchoring the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News, and hosting her own talk show, The Jane Pauley Show. Diagnosed at the age of 50, she is a pioneer of the effort to beat the stigma of bipolar.
#4 Maria Bamford
Comedian and actor Maria Bamford stars in the Netflix original comedy series Lady Dynamite, a loosely biographical show based on her hospitalization for bipolar depression several years ago. In 2010, she unexpectedly faced a dark period of rapid ups and downs that left her grappling with dangerous thoughts and cycling in and out of psychiatric hospitals. She was diagnosed with bipolar the following year. Lady Dynamite portrays Bamford’s attempts to rebuild her life in Los Angeles after spending six months in recovery. The show also comedically reflects on her personal backstory as well as her relationships with family and friends. In both her stand-up routines and her hit series, Bamford normalizes topics like bipolar depression, hospitalization, and obsessive thoughts.
Former performance poet and current mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi is known for her solo work and her appearances on Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, as well as her impressionistic memoirI’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying. The Nigerian-American writer is outspoken about the work of wellness and brings clarity to the question about creativity and bipolar mood episodes. Ikpi emphasizes the benefits of stability and dispels the myth that staying in the intense moods of bipolar is necessary for creative expression and artistry. “It’s OK not to be OK, she says, “but I also want people to want to be healthy. I want people to know there is so much more on the other side of their wellness.”
#6 Joanne P. McCallie
Elite college basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie, also known as Coach P., is known for finding success both on and off the court. Most recently, Coach P. was the head coach of the Duke University women’s basketball team. And she has made her own mark on Division I coaching history by becoming the first head coach to win a conference title in four different conferences and the first coach to be named conference coach of the year in four different conferences. Outside of her coaching accolades, McCallie also authored Secret Warrior: A Coach & Fighter, On and Off the Courts and is passionate about wanting to guide people—not just athletes or students—through their individual mental health challenges. McCallie also works to improve access to care and make a tangible difference in how services are provided.
#7 Mary Lambert
Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert wants to put a stop to shame and use her voice to advocate for broader self-acceptance—whether for bipolar disorder or one’s body image. Lambert herself moves past self-acceptance into self-celebration with lyrics that may inspire double-takes, including those of her hit single, “Secrets,” which features such lines as “I’ve got bipolar, my s—’s not in order.” And that courage and vulnerability surely helped to pave the way to her being named a Didi Hirsch Mental Health Ambassador.
#8 Linda Hamilton
Although Linda Hamilton wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar until she was in her 40s, the Academy Award–nominated actor believes she experienced symptoms of the disorder, such as extreme mood changes, as a teenager. Hamilton has also said that her father, a doctor, diagnosed himself as having bipolar disorder. Best known for her portrayal of Sarah Connor in the Terminator franchise, Hamilton once described a manic episode as feeling like an amazingly brilliant time: “Sleep doesn’t seem necessary. You wake up feeling great. But it’s not all great feelings … [it also involved] the capacity for fighting, war, taking everything on, taking too much on, overachieving, and then raging because my system was so depleted.”
#9 Ruby Wax
American-born British actor and comedian Ruby Wax leveraged her fame not only to become a mental health campaigner but also to provide much-needed mental health resources to the broader public. After starring in the sitcom Girls on Top (1985–86), Wax later went on to create a stand-up show, Losing It, in 2010, which dealt with her experience of bipolar. In response to audiences’ reactions, Wax founded the mental health website www.sane.org/uk, which is now part of the charity SANE. And in 2013, she went on to earn her master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy from the University of Oxford.
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