The Hidden Illnesses: Depression & Bipolar Disorder

William Styron suffered from depression.
William Styron suffered from depression.

A friend wrote to tell me that the DBSA National Conference,”Stronger Together,” will take place in Miami, June 14-17.

If you don’t know what DBSA is, you are lucky. It is the Depressive and Bipolar Support Alliance.

Yes, the mental health consumers are doing it for themselves.  They get together to educate themselves and plan for better medical treatment.

Some do not believe these illnesses exist.  They loudly tell the mentally ill to   “take responsibility.”

We would all prefer not to know about such illnesses, and wish they did not exist. But chances are one of your family members or friends secretly suffers from major depression or bipolar disorder.  They dare not tell anyone, because they might lose friends or jobs.

Darkness VisibleThe novelist William Styron wrote the classic memoir of depression,  Darkness Visible:  A Memoir of Madness.   Hospitalization finally helped him with his severe illness, though depression continued to trouble him.  And Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist, is famous for her memoir of bipolar disorder, An Unquiet Mind:   A Memoir of Moods and Madness.  She also wrote a book on the link between bipolar disorder and creativity, Touched with Fire.

Major depression, a chemical imbalance of the brain, is probably caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, “causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”

Such illnesses are not your ordinary suburban ups and downs.  Think anguish so dark you are unable to leave the house, or a manic hallucination that causes you to read the Bible to your colleagues and pray loudly in the break room.  By the time you have been treated, you’ve alienated everyone and lost your job.

Here is a list of famous people with these illnesses.

Famous People with Depression:

Mike Wallace

Buzz Aldrin

Brooke Shields

Princess Diana

J. K. Rowling

Sheryl Crowe

Famous People with Bipolar Disorder:

Patty Duke

Sylvia Plath

Virginia Woolf

Jane Kenyon

John Berryman

Robert Lowell

Carrie Fisher

Jackson Pollock

Catherine Zeta-Jones

2 thoughts on “The Hidden Illnesses: Depression & Bipolar Disorder

  1. About a month ago, in the middle of a conversation that hadn’t started out in that direction at all, my hairdresser, whom I’ve known for years, commented that she was bipolar and that it was only kept in check by medication. What was so uplifting was the matter of fact way in which she said it. I could have cheered. Would that more people were in a position where they could feel confident enough to do this.


  2. It is better to be able to talk about it than not, and hairdressing is one of those creative professions, isn’t it? So that’s great she felt she could!

    It is unusual in the U.S. for people to be open about such illnesses. There are many compassionate people, but there are also the folks who say, “Snap out of it.”

    And the mental health care program is fragmented here. There are large rural areas in the U.S. where there are no mental health professionals at all. I’m afraid I don’t remember the stats… But it is bad for them and their families.

    So here is my educational piece of the year!


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