What do Demi Lovato, Sharon Osborne, Renee Russo and I have in common? Mental illness. While I don't share the stage with these talented women, we all share one other virtue: we have recently spoken publicly about mental illness.
Anyone who looks us up can find the articles, watch the clips and hear the messages. It's certainly not what I aspired to be when I was growing up. I wanted to be a writer for Rolling Stone or an actor on Saturday Night Live. The very last thing I would have guessed was I would be writing books on mental illness.
Under the spotlight, one can see all the flecks of dust and dirt. It's very revealing. I cannot imagine the burden of fame on top of depression. Or, to have fame entwined with the chaos surrounding a bipolar diagnosis, particularly since it's usually smack dab in the middle of a manic episode.
Those are not pretty pictures.
The hues of ambulances and Twitter rants make for great stories -- their hype spreads faster than wildfire -- but it's serious business. Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes had to endure the chaos of diagnosis many of us were able to experience in private. I know I'm still embarrassed about some of my manic behavior. Thank God there were no paps hiding in my bushes or flying overhead eager to cash a fat paycheck. A closeup on my worst days? No thank you.
What is nice is we've finally moved into an era where stars are willing to disclose their mental illnesses. This is a rather new and long, long overdue, certainly welcomed, gesture by our community. Yes, there have been some, we have books from actresses, but now we're having a conversation about it. We are banging our drums too.
Sharon Osborne recently admitted on her show how she has been battling depression and taking medication for the past 16 years. While there may be less stigma in talking about depression than some other deemed "boogeymen" psychiatric disorders (you have to see the looks we get to understand this), anyone opening up deserves praise. There is still a lot of stigma in disclosing any mental illness.
Renee Russo also recently, bravely, admitted on The Queen Latifah Show that she suffers from bipolar disorder and takes medication.
Thank you for telling the world. I'm with you there, sisters -- all of you. (Wil Wheaton, we love what you have done for the cause; I'm talking about the chicks today though!)
Medication is another area of opinion and controversy. It never ends, does it? As if having a brain illness in itself is not enough, there is also the added stigma in taking medication. To defend the need to medicate is frustrating and tiresome. Remember Tom Cruise vs. Brooke Shields? For me and millions of Americans it is a lifesaver. Still, we are judged for not only having a mental illness, we are also judged for taking medication. Stigma is all around us. And that's why we must keep talking.
Then there are those brave souls like Demi Lovato who are not only public about their illness, they fight for us. What an inspiration she is to her millions of fans -- most of them young and impressionable -- with her powerful message of hope. Now the artist is on her Mental Health Listening and Engagement Tour which she began with a stop at the JED Foundation. The the multi-platinum artist also graced the most recent cover of BP Magazine and spoke at NAMI's annual convention in September. Demi also has a scholarship at Cast Recovery. I believe she is the most powerful advocate of our day.
Any advocate knows at the helm of the message are two things: education and hope. Whether it is through a song or book or an article, we hope to increase awareness, open eyes -- even ruffle feathers if necessary -- for our cause.
My recent book,Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival: Tips for Living With Bipolar Disorder was written to do just this, to educate those with mental illness and provide solutions for the problems we face. It is my 20 years of note-taking, the trials and tribulations and arrival of knowledge I wanted to share. Along with my co-author, Honora Rose, combined, the book represents our 30 years of tips on how we stay well. I wish I could send it to everyone who is struggling.
To anyone suffering, whether it be in silence or in the bright glare of the spotlight, I wish you well. Keep shining, staying out of the dark and reaching out. There is help. Please find it and stay strong.
Tune in, read, listen, and know people are here, some famous, some not, ever aiming to inspire and hold up our end of the cause for you.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.