Celebrities; Coming Out or Outed?

Lately, the influx of news on celebrities with bipolar disorder has been exploding. 

Doing a google news search of the word “bipolar” leads to sloughs of articles like this one claiming to have news on handfuls of everyone from hollywood celebrities to athletes, and even folks working in politics who have bipolar disorder.

Now, I have some real mixed feelings about all of this, because I’ve often considered these articles a place for little more than gossip. The word gossip, to me, suggests sharing information that might not be true, and information that isn’t consented by those who are being talked about.

Knowing that a successful celebrity is experiencing similar symptoms as us can really run home that mental illness can affect anyone, and in a sense I believe these articles are beginning to help people become more familiar with illnesses like bipolar disorder -which helps lessen the stigma for all of us.

But, I can’t help but wonder how detrimental it can be to those who are in the public eye and facing bipolar disorder. Can you imagine if one of these newspapers or websites printed an article about you having bipolar disorder before you were ready to talk about it with anyone outside of your family or friends? What if someone told your co-workers, the people at your gym, and essentially the entire nation about the state of your mental health without asking you about it first?

These folks are essentially being outed, and once everyone knows (or even believes) that you have something like bipolar disorder, there isn’t really any way to go backwards and let it remain a private matter.

Can you think of any other situations where people have been weeded out, and then thrust into the public eye? How about the McCarthy era? Or even homosexuality, as it became more prominent and accepted in our society? Personally, I just see this as extreme bullying.

I realize that I am someone who is out, I tell people both privately and publicly about my experiences with bipolar disorder, but my real point here is that I made the decision on my own. It is one thing to feel strong enough and ready to take on what people might throw back at you for being open about mental illness, and another matter completely to have someone pull the rug out from under you and do it without your consent or before you are ready.

As I said, I think being able to look up to celebrities or our own personal heros (mine being Carrie Fisher who has been out about having bipolar disorder for quite some time) is important, and a wonderful growing addition to help America understand that mental illness may not mean we are unsuccessful, or hard to work with, or… well, evil or anything. But, it is important that people are ready to deal with the waves of questions, and the uncertainty that may come with being open about mental illness, and being pushed into that arena too soon can be extremely detrimental to what might be an already unstable situation.

The next time you see an article or a news segment on someone like a previous teen star who has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I hope you will consider the notion that the information may not have been something they expected to share. In that sense, celebrities are just like everyone else.

Though it is my own personal dream that people can talk openly about mental illness in any situation, with anyone, and feel comfortable doing it, I think it is important to realize that some people aren’t comfortable yet. And if celebrities are the ones paving the way for this dream to be realized, I think it is important to understand that it may not have been entirely willingly.

I would say that what most would consider the “sacrifice” of losing my-life-where-I-was-hiding-having-bipolar-disorder in exchange for one where my mental health is an open topic for conversation doesn’t feel like a sacrifice anymore.

In fact, I’ve found that the water is much warmer, the fish are much friendlier, and the ocean current isn’t as strong as it was when I was trying to swim it alone.

In conclusion, I do not plan to pass on any celebrity gossip, only accounts on mental health that are being put forward by the person in question themselves. I want to encourage people to be open about what they think and feel and believe, but I believe that can happen without bullying anyone into doing it or talking behind anyone’s back. I believe being open can inspire others, and that inspiration wont need any pushing or gossip because it’ll do the work for us. 

I do hope the other bloggers here on wordpress will consider making a similar pledge.

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