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Bipolar affects a lot of so-called ‘ordinary people’ not just celebs

Posted on 15 April 2011 | 6:04am

The Guardian asked me for a piece yesterday on the news that Catherine Zeta-Jones was being treated for bipolar disorder. Here is the piece I wrote for them.

In an ideal world, it would not take a film star to get the media focused on mental illness. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a celebrity culture where Catherine Zeta-Jones being treated for bipolar disorder can soar to the top of news websites’ ‘most viewed’, and relegate Andrew Lansley’s woes or even David Cameron’s pre election views on immigration.

I am an ambassador for Time to Change, the campaign to change attitudes on mental illness, to break down the stigma and taboo which still surround it. Attitudes are being measured and the campaign appears to be having some success. When England cricketer Michael Yardy left the World Cup because of depression, the ‘pull yourself together … what has he got to be depressed about?’ brigade were in the minority. There is greater understanding but there is still stigma. Some people with mental illness say the discrimination can be worse than the symptoms.

What the mental health charities find deeply frustrating is that they can only get on the media, where attitudes can be challenged and changed, via celebrities. If Catherine Zeta-Jones had been diagnosed with cancer, we would be talking about cancer. It is as though the celebs attached to an issue lead a debate, rather than the issue and how it affects millions of people.

When it comes to mental illness, there is a danger that focus on famous people tends to get in the way of one of our central messages – it can happen to anyone – or that it reinforces one of the myths, that mental illness hits ‘creative, achieving people.’

If you are the charity in question, trying to raise your profile so as to raise funds and awareness for the services you provide, you have to play the game. I was inundated with media bids yesterday and the charities wanted me to take them up. But isn’t it better if a doctor or a nurse goes up? Ah, but they want a name.

So here’s an idea for the Guardian. Take Catherine Zeta-Jones as the ‘peg’. But open a few pages of G2 to fellow sufferers most of us have never heard of. The charities will help find them. Put a teaser at the end of this piece and they’ll come to you. And then your readers will see that not all bipolar sufferers look like Stephen Fry or Catherine Zeta-Jones … They look like the woman next door, the guy on the bus, the colleague across the office, the kid you met on holiday last year.

One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point. That is a lot of people. Very few are film stars. Catherine Zeta-Jones will help raise the profile of the issues, whether she wanted it that way or not. That should lead to better understanding. But as I said when I spoke on mental health, including my own issues of breakdown and depression, to the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday, better understanding must be an accompaniment to good treatment not a substitute.

I join the many others who wish Catherine Zeta-Jones well and thank her for the support her name alone will lend to our campaign. But there are people with the same illness who cannot get the support they need, who still feel they have to lie about their condition to get or keep a job, and who really worry about the impact of government cuts and reforms that will fundamentally change the way mental health services are run. Those issues should be getting an airing regardless of celebrity support or involvement.
@@@ Alastair Campbell has asked for his fee for this article to go to Rethink

  • Well argued (as usual). Well aimed (as usual). Just wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU for giving ME a mention!

    Who am I? I’m just a guy on a bus, in an office etc etc.


  • THANKS for mentioning ME!

    WHO? Exactly my point. I’m just one of the millions of “ordinary” people suffering through mental illness.

  • Robert Jackson

    It would be all very well the media giving lots of coverage to Catherine Zeta-Jones if they really really really wanted her to get better.

    In truth they just want a good story with good archive pictures to get folk to buy their papers or watch their telly channels.

    What I learnt very early on in my cure for hearing voices was that your closest friends usually like you just as you are – ill – displaying odd behaviour that they can subtly mock – possibly as the jolly drinking companion – but not the prospect of a healthy, better balanced companion or acquaintance or friend.

    Equally subtly they undermine your efforts.

    So part of the cure involves thinking carefully about who your true friends are, considering which should be kept close, which given more space and those who should be dropped altogether.

    And that’s really tough if, unlike me, you are dependent upon toxic company for your survival.

  • Ehtch

    Bipolarism is nothing to get excited about. It normally shows up during stress, as Catherine has explained herself at the moment.

    Most expressive people are such like – some say it is the secret of mankinds advancements. The brain and mind is mighty complicated.

  • Duncan Phipp-MacIntyre

    The stigma is immense. The epithet scrounger attached to any benefit recipient, the way in which Disability Living Allowance is so skewed against mental health and the attitude that one is just self-indulgantly feeling sorry for oneself all just reinforce base prejudice. Jack Straw stated that the best cure for depression is a job. Such attitudes abound. I see no change only festering stagnation.

  • CarolannGrant

    The coverage of CZJ was actually quite sympathetic and also highlighted the huge pressure partners are under when their other half gets a serious illness. Worse is the coverage of people like Charlie Sheen or Britney Spears when they have clearly been struggling with mental health issues. It’s revolting to read this voyeuristic, gleeful coverage of someone else’s turmoil, even if that person chooses to be in the public eye. What price some basic humanity?

  • Ehtch

    All I know John, you have a healthy welsh surname, Lewis. After that I am lost. I am a Thomas, by the way.

  • Mark Wright

    The changing perceptions and increased understanding of mental illness is of course to be welcomed. The gradual erosion of social stigmas will inevitably lead to more people not only recognising their condition but taking active steps to seek the medical help and support they need. It is therefore essential for those facing the challenges of mental illness that the infrastructure is maintained within the NHS to provide that help once it is sought.

  • Ehtch

    Fascinated by sharpend actresses with said condition, Marilyn Monroe, Vivien Leigh, maybe Louise Brooks, but my beautiful favorite is Gene Tierney, as stated here previously,
    Louise Brooks, sweet,
    Gene Tierney – WOW!,

    Gene Tierney in film,

  • well said that non movie star! people generally don’t like the idea that you can recover, they want their nutters nutty.
    Doctors included.
    Ten years after my, drug free, recovery from full-on MD (as I prefer to call it) I went to see a doctor about my extremely painful shoulder – the first question after I explained what the problem was all about was tentative, “…and how are you feeling…in yourself?”
    “Fully qualified as a mental health social worker with the power to section people whose insane questions indicate they are a danger to others, thanks doctor!”
    I have a different angle on Zeta-Jones’ defining herself as bi-polar here if Alistair permits linking to twitter friend’s blogs.

  • Chris lancashire

    Yet again you spoil a good article. As you are well aware, there are no “government cuts” to the Health service.

  • Ehtch

    “the way he used to hold his own hands in front of his tits”?!?

    Did you really come out with that, Alastair? Tidy if so.

  • Ehtch

    Louise Brooks pic?

    A tribute song for her from OMD from Liverpool,

  • What a great article, thank you Alastair. What Alastair and Catherine are doing by talking openly about their depression can only help and hopefully encourage others to do so and to ask for help. I wish Catherine all the best in her recovery. Depression is an illness and as such can be treated and you can get better. I set up a not-for-profit website,, for depression sufferers and carers to offer others the help and support that my husband and I wanted when I was diagnosed with bipolar depression. The site has 90 000 worldwide which shows you’re not alone. Please don’t suffer in silence. Alastair is unswerving in his support of raising awareness of mental illness. He wrote the jacket puff for my book Depression Can Be Fun about bipolar depression. Thank you again Alastair. Best regards, Helen

  • Maybe the snooker authorities could learn something from the cricket fraternity on how to treat people with mental health issues. Their treatment of Ronnie O’Sullivan this week highlights a complete lack of understanding of why he makes the decisions he does.

  • Ehtch

    Suppose I might as well say I am in love with Gene Tierney (dead), Louise Brooks (dead). Anna Friel (alive) and any french girl alive (defiately some of them alive, pal – loser).
    La France, suck on my stump, la-la,

  • xpluginbaby

    I do think it’s great that things like this are more open, and that famous faces can help a cause- but there is still a long way to go. There is still a huge stigma around mental health, and it makes it especially hard for us ‘ordinary’ people. We spend our days on waiting lists, occasionally end up in hospital, and it’s only then that people begin to realise it’s a real problem.

    Makes me sad, is all.

  • Jo Willcox

    As many people agree, it is very courageous that Alastair talks about the really difficult and painful experiences of mental illness, such as drinking, hearing voices, being picked up by the police, being placed in a cell and then being detained.

    These experiences are very common with people that we meet working in mental health and not something that is usually so openly discussed.

    Other well known people have talked about their experiences, however, it tends to be, I hate to say this, almost ‘glamourised’ in a way that (as you say) people talk about people suffering mental illness in the arts/film as creative, high achievers. That does not mean that I think that people have not suffered distress and pain.

    However, I may be wrong, but I haven’t heard a ‘celebrity’ or well known person talking about having a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, a really common ‘condition’ affecting a lot of people. It would be great if they did as there is hardly any public understanding of this and other personality disorders. Sadly, as people can display certain behaviours that can (not always) frighten or alienate people who don’t understand (unfortunately even in mental health services) people get a really rough deal.

    Also, Psychosis is very seldom talked about publicly. The Cornwall Early Intervention Team have done a great you tube film with made by staff and people who have used the service, trying to promote awareness of this (Sorry if that’s wrong, I cut and pasted it and not good at IT (nurse)

    Well known people are able to reach a huge audience and it would be great if this could be used to highlight the difficulties facing ‘ordinary’ people. Working in mental health, we see people living in places unimaginable to many people, people who’s promise and ambitions have been robbed by mental illness and sometimes drugs, living in squalid conditions.

    We also see people in middle class homes, as we know, mental illness (although certainly poverty can hugely exacerbate) cuts accross class, culture and background.

    Time to talk, time to change…..

  • Sianbradshaw

    I have suffered from depression all my life, although I was only diagnosed at 19 after an attempted suicide. I never got on with councelling as I am a shy and reserved person. I finally received the correct medication at about 23, which helped with my anxiety as well as my depression. I am more aware now of my condition and can take action when I can see myself going into a downward spiral. However, if someone had never had depression before, they wouldn’t recognise the signs. Sorry to go on, but what I am trying to say is that in job applications I lie about my history of depression because of the taboo and because I think it is irrelevant because anyone could get it at some stage in their life.

  • Ehtch

    These days, Lindsay Lohan is what I am thinking of. Like her character, a lot, can see where she is coming from – a fragile mind.

  • Ehtch

    Louise Brooks hairstyle? Won’t look good on me, since I am not called Phil Oakey, even though I have still have got all my hair, unlike Phil these days…

  • Keane Sinead

    Lindsay Lohan are you serious,methinks that she does not suffer from any form of mental illness.Do you really think that her character should be held up as a role model ?.As for the fragile mind,that might be something else.

  • Ehtch

    Saw The Green Ray again the other day. and the whole filum is on youtubb. The final scene, totally sweet. Le Ray Verte,

  • Ehtch
    Le Ray Verte, The Green Ray, which I saw the other day again. Final scene.

  • Ehtch

    LA Ray Verte it might be, my french grammar is pants.

  • Ehtch

    A few years ago, bumped into Mary Steenburgen, in Carmarthen, in Wales, of all places. Her hubby, Ted Danson, was looking into the after affects of the oil spill in Milford Haven, that happened during John Major’s watch.

    Incredible lady, she just glowed as she walked down King Street. An amazing sight, and an amazing lady. Her and Jack Nickolson in that western film is amazing.

  • Ehtch

    Might as well post Dave Bowie, since I have used him, via youtubb, down below, or up top,

    Dave won’t mind, he, as many of us don’t, couldn’t give a flying feck he doesn’t.

  • Ehtch

    High histamine then, stimulates the brain, too much it is said, in said such persons.

  • Ehtch

    Oh yeh, Lindsay Lohan is stable. Give it a rest pal.

  • Ehtch

    My daughter can’t believe why I don’t love her mother anymore, even though I tell her I still do, totally..

  • Ehtch

    Give it a rest pal, Lindsay is healthy barking mad, like the rest of us here. I can tell, I am one, mad as spanners, box of frogs, rats wedding, etc..

  • Keane Sinead

    Have you seen a picture of her lately?If that is healthy,when I go to my doctor on Monday,I’ll ask him to commit me.She is not Dylan Thomas,she is a bad actress ,a very bad actress.

  • Ehtch

    Gene Tierney at her finishing school in Switzerland. Yes, dad’s on the east coast of the US used to send them there too. She learnt a lot, especially to speak fluent french, and no doubt european ways, and looking at things philisophically, as some of us do – she is at the front on the left here, on this cover,

    Gene Tierney being interviewed in french, in ’86,

  • Ehtch

    Since summer is coming, might as well point out where young people could go on holiday, cheap – loads of cheap campsites about, but don’t forget your mosszie spray, Niles Crane types. La Gironde penninsula, west of Bordeaux? Cheap local incredible wine. Tits, ahem!, city. Dutch german brits scandanavians and french of course, showing what they got….

    I well recomend it. Who needs tv holiday programmes, ey?

  • Ehtch

    Think the above video has some paedo alert, that sudden brit stops!

    I won’t blame them. Sweet true times.

    Gironde. fine wine, and fine life.

  • Ehtch

    Sian, bugger the depression, make it your enemy the bugger you have to fight against.

    You must realise now that you have soldiers here in your army, fighting for you too.

    Song for you Sian bach,

  • Ehtch

    How about this, Sian, celtica alpins people which some of us are apparntly lke. in our ways,

    Keep the faith.

  • Ehtch

    Jack and Mary, discussing things, as I suggested below, HANG THE, well, supposed muderer/ fast-draw killer. who do I care, YANKLAND!

  • Ehtch

    When I wake up to Robins and Thrushes an Blackbirds, both Brown and Black, I grow an inch, and when I see a Nistle Thrush visiting me in mid-winter. I know I am talking sense.

  • Ehtch

    This conferm buisiness is really pissing me orf Campbell – makes me think where you actually stand.

    Having to put letters on a line – change people, Alastair.

  • Ehtch

    Jack and Mary, doing their best to get on, in a house near a well,

  • Ehtch

    Brilliant clips of Louise Brooks here, lesbian? So fecking what?

  • Ehtch

    Sad to here that linsaya has been sent uo today? What has she done? Stole a bit a jewellery? But wgy, society? Any cant will tell you she didn’t need the fecking money – sheez, some fecking people.

    I like Linsay Lohan, by the way, a LOT. Does it show? yyerrrgh blarhh.

    fecking daily mail readers, they feck me right orf!

  • Ehtch

    Ted Danson, and other hollywood torettaties, with the great Larry David,

  • Ehtch

    I have a picture of my mother and her younger sister together with my grandparents from about 1938, both with Louise Brooks bobs, six and five they were – they looked amazing. Very sweet. The style is due a comeback – looks good on both dark hair and blonde.

  • Sorry day when citizens believe the label and hold theory be fact. Sooner the over powering disease mongers allow citizens to think and remove a monopoly no cure medical model of forces without personal consent and that regardless of mental capacity then we shall have progress. Facebook. Psychiatric Abuse Scotland. Twitter. psychabusescot.  End chemical & electroshock slavery.

  • Thank You Mr Campbell. Tried B12 for depression? Cashnuts 250grams perday. Good for headaches also.