Celebritising bipolar


In recent years, the number of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder has risen and almost every day newspapers strain with stories about the outlandish behaviour of one celebrity or another who, seemingly, is affected by the condition. The sensationalist nature of these stories undermines the seriousness of the disorder and the reality of the suffering it can induce.

In 1980, the psychiatric establishment in the diagnostic and statistical manual (D.S.M.) re-categorised manic depression as bipolar disorder. Whilst the former label articulated in unambiguous terms the defining symptomology of the condition, bipolar disorder is a softer term and more open to interpretation. Accordingly, the criteria by which bipolar disorder was diagnosed widened and, now, encompasses a broader spectrum of symptoms and behaviours which, formerly, were not attributed to the issue.

Many societies relate madness to genius, a notion which is very attractive to many of us who experience mental health issues. The profound and creative thinking that has characterised the minds of many of the world’s greatest thinkers and innovators is comparable to the cognition of individuals experiencing a form of psychosis, resulting from a bipolar type condition. Psychosis occurs outside the boundaries of conventional thought and reason. Whilst celebrity culture manufactures unreason, it offers the world few geniuses.

Perhaps, more than any other mental health condition, bipolar disorder lends itself to the creative process. During episodes of hypomania, creative individuals are often most productive, creating wild and imaginative art, music or text. However, hypomania, like celebrity itself, often culminates in burn-out. The reality of bipolar disorder is that, whilst it can be controlled and, even, overcome, in the long term it effects both the mental functioning and the quality of life of many of those who experience it. Thus, the twenty year old celebrity, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who qualifies her coolness to the press and media in terms of sexual posturing and addictive behaviour, may not seem as attractive and entertaining, when she becomes a fifty year old crack addicted casualty of psychiatry and celebrity culture.

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