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Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones Gives Hope to Sufferers of Bipolar Disorder

The beautiful and talented actress Catherine Zeta-Jones appears to have everything going for her. A successful career, a solid marriage to actor Michael Douglas, and two healthy, happy children.  But even for celebrities like Zeta-Jones, sometimes life throws you a curve ball. In the midst of a blissful “normal” life, the luckiest people can be stricken with a debilitating disease.  That's exactly what has happened to the seemingly unshakeable actress.

Granted, the past year would have been tough for anyone.  Her husband Michael Douglas was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer.  Then both she and her husband were involved in a court battle with Douglas' first wife over royalties from the sequel to the movie “Wall Street.”  And then to be stricken with Bipolar II disorder at the same time seems unusually harsh. It does, however,  illustrate a defining point of the disease: it can manifest at any time in your life, and continuous stress is often what brings on the symptoms.

What is bipolar disorder?

Also known as manic depressive illness, bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by mood swings that range from depression to euphoria. Nearly 6 million people living in the United States are estimated to suffer from the disease.

Dr. Igor Galynker, director of the Family Center for Bipolar Disorder at Beth Israel Medical Center states, “It can start at any time in a person's life and it's a lifelong illness.”

The National Institutes of Mental Health tell us that stress is one common trigger for bipolar disease.  People who experience prolonged agitation, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, and thoughts of suicide may be showing symptoms of the disorder. Bipolar II, the type Zeta-Jones has, is characterized by longer periods of depression.

Treatments for bipolar disorder.

The usual approach to treating bipolar disorder combines medication and psychotherapy.  Often these medications, which include mood stabilizers and anti-depressants, have dangerous side effects. Psychotherapy helps the patient deal with stressors and triggers that can cause the disease to flare. 

There are alternative treatments available such as vitamins, minerals, and oils that can help with calming a manic episode; and herbs and supplements that can ease depression.  However, any alternative or complementary treatment should be discussed with a doctor - even “natural” ones. Nature can provide very powerful medications on its own.
Fortunately, the actress made the wise and courageous step of checking herself into a mental health facility to get treatment.  Help is available for most people with bipolar disorder and though it isn't curable, it is certainly treatable. People with bipolar illnesses can live very productive lives as Zeta-Jones has proven.  The crucial part is getting diagnosed in the first place and then receiving consistent and effective treatment.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to mental illness, and bipolar disorder is no exception.  Catherine Zeta-Jones' public announcement may inspire others to get help for their own mental health.

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