Quick: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta Jones, Elton John. What do they all have in common?

They've all worn sequined dresses. Seriously. Check Brad's photo shoot in Rolling Stones circa 1999. But besides sporting Oscar worthy gowns and having performing as their passion, they each have talked about struggling and (more importantly) managing mental illness:

Elton John: bulimia, alcoholism and cocaine addiction
Brad Pitt: depression
Catherine Zeta Jones: bipolar 2 disorder

But when citizens of the Hollywood elite spill about their psychiatric disorders, does it do those of us who are not in the limelight any good?

Starlets tell-all: Crucial or Crass?

See, I'm not usually a fan of celebrities disclosing about mental illness. I know this may seem a bit peculiar considering I am all about dismantling the stigma of mental illness and ‘coming out' about my own bipolar disorder and anxiety.

But I think there's a danger with celebrity confessions. They can either trivialize or romanticize the struggle many of us have. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the media darlings who willingly reveal their illness, have in fact a psychiatric illness ‘lite' version. You know mild depression, or have had only one anxiety attack, or consider their perfectionism a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.

And Hollywood stars have access to medical care and resources most of us don't. So it's not a level playing field when it comes to healing.

Lastly we put celebrities on pedestals. But their voices shouldn't be any more important or more credible than say my friend's who lives (very well I might add) with bipolar disorder or my cousin's who has depression. But when entertainers speak, we listen or listen more closely anyway.

But my mind is changing. Although my assumptions may occasionally be true, for some celebrities (think Brooke Shields and her devastating experience with postpartum depression), mental illness ‘lite' hers was not. I'm starting to see the value of high profile folks breaking the silence of mental illness. At least someone is talking about it. And it's proving to be beneficial.

Take fellow PT blogger Dr. Deborah Serani's excellent post ‘On the "Celebrity Coming Out" of Mental Illness'. Her article offers an emphatic evidence-based ‘two thumbs up' about the power of prominent people piping up about their mental illness. In it she explains that ‘more people (seek) help as a result of a celebrity's disclosure...when the public learns about a person who lives with a clinical disorder, manages it well and experiences a rewarding life, stigma is reduced". Now that's something for the gossip rags.

Hooray! Someone didn't use the ‘exhaustion' excuse.

In 2011, Catherine Zeta Jones announced she took time out at a treatment facility not because of that vague medical label called ‘exhaustion' but because of bipolar II disorder. Yipee! Not'yipee' that she has bipolar disorder, but yeah for her for naming the elephant in the room. Very few do.

Exhaustion, when used as a blanket statement for specific mental disorders, just furthers perpetuates the idea mental illness is something to be ashamed about.

Elton John has been very forthright with his struggles (and victories) over bulimia, alcoholism and his addiction to cocaine.

Brad Pitt, who maybe didn't exactly say he has a mental illness, he did illuminate for us that even if on the outside it looks like you've got it made: handsome, a beautiful, loving partner, a successful career, depression isn't something to which you are immune.

Even Reality TV has stepped up. American Idol hopeful, Shelby Tweten openly talked about how medication helps her and her pretty darn good rendition of Carrie Underwood's ‘Temporary Home' shows pills don't necessarily dampen your creativity or talent. A shout out is due to the AI producers too. They are the ones who chose to profile her story, one that gave national TV time to an illness (and its treatment) that is too often shrouded in shame and misunderstanding.

These stories of recovery fly in the face of how news and movies portray someone with a mental illness. And these stories, our stories, are not uncommon. On the contrary, recovery is more the rule than the exception.

So Brad Pitt is good for my mental health after all. But really was that ever even in question?

© 2012 Victoria Maxwell www.victoriamaxwell.com 

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