Are Celebrities Giving Depression and Bipolar Disorder a Bad Name?

by Martin

in Depression News

I recently read an excellent and thought provoking post by Madam Bipolar entitled – Is Bipolar the new Black?

Madam (I hope I can call her that) points to some recent cases involving celebrities who seem to rely upon their mental health issues as a get out for their excesses.

She asks some very valid and interesting questions:

“My question is – do some people, celebrities especially, cite mental illness as an excuse for poor behaviour? Does bipolar have a special status in our pop culture? Do publicists bring it out as the last line of excuse?”

I’ve already thrown in my two cents in Madam Bipolar’s comments. But I think these are questions that are worth discussing further.

Celebrity Bipolar

Firstly, I suppose in cases where un-managed bipolar is definitely present, the celebrity lifestyle (where money is no object and everybody wants to be your friend) is likely to lead to real extremes of manic or hypomanic episodes. It may therefore not be surprising that these people can get themselves in some serious trouble.

Maybe to that extent there is a kind of celebrity version of bipolar, although, some celebrities with the condition, such as Stephen Fry, seem able to avoid a violent expression of the disorder.

But, in those worst cases, does the bipolar disorder excuse the behaviour?

It explains it at least and that is probably why it does get aired by publicists trying to defend what might be perceived as the indefensible. But whether it excuses it seems to me to come down to question of whether, and if so, to what extent, the individual is blameworthy.

Where does the blame lie?

I suppose the answer to that question depends upon the extent to which the person is at fault. Did they take a conscious decision to forego treatment or medication? If so, was that decision affected by their condition? If they consciously refused treatment but that refusal was caused or contributed to by their impaired mental state, are they really to blame?

It is no doubt a question of fact and degree in every case. But, most western legal systems recognise that mental disorders can affect criminal liability.

Where a crime requires proof that the perpetrator intended a particular outcome, a person can be found to have been unable to form the requisite intention by reason of a mental disorder.

Similarly, the technical defence of ‘insanity’ will be available if it can be shown that by reason of some ‘disease of the mind’ a person “(i) did not know that his act would be wrong; or (ii) did not understand the nature and quality of his actions”.

These legal concepts are not necessarily relevant to the celebrity cases that Madam Bipolar refers to, but they do show that society recognises that a person’s culpability can be diminished in genuine cases of mental impairment.

So are these people giving depression and bipolar a bad name?

The key point, I think, is that we should excuse those whose actions can be said genuinely not to have been their fault, because they occurred as a result of the condition they suffer from.

But if they are culpable – for example where the cited condition is not genuine or where they have failed of their own free will to get help for the condition – it’s hard not to condemn.

Of course, whether we would know the truth of the situation in any given case, so that we can unravel the chains of causation, is quite another matter.

It seems to me that the best thing that can come out of the publicity surrounding these cases is wider recognition and acceptance of mental health issues.

If your average guy sees the kinds of nightmare scenarios that can occur when bipolar, depression or other mental health problems go undiagnosed and untreated, it might just cause him to think twice about burying his head in the sand when it comes to recognising the depression or other warning signs he is experiencing.

About the Author

Father, husband, writer and website publisher, discontented in his day-job, he writes here about depression - his own and in general. You can follow Too Depressed on Twitter. Please share the content on this site with all your friends, followers and contacts using the buttons above.

Contact the author

Last revised on December 6, 2012

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: