10 Famous People With Bipolar Disorder

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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If you’re living with mental health symptoms, you may wonder whether you will ever feel like yourself again. When life feels difficult, it may be helpful to hear the success stories of other individuals to remind you that, with treatment, your symptoms may become manageable. Although it may feel as if celebrities have problem-free lives, many famous individuals have experienced or overcome mental health challenges. One common mental health illness experienced by many famous people is bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression or manic-depressive illness.

Research suggests that online therapy is an effective form of treatment for patients living with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. In one study, internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment was found to be an effective method to treat bipolar symptoms in some patients. If you’re living with bipolar disorder, matching with a supportive therapist online can help you understand and manage your symptoms.

Getty/AnnaStills
Symptoms of mental health conditions can be hard to manage

Bipolar disorder – Overview of the mental illness

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition characterized by changes in mood, activity, and energy levels. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.8% of the American adult population has bipolar disorder, and the average age of onset is 25 years old. Typically, bipolar disorder persists throughout adult life, though its symptoms can be managed so that their effects are limited. In some cases, bipolar disorder may impact an individual's ability to go about their daily life, work, and have healthy relationships.

Over 50% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder receive treatment, and of those, between 70% and 85% recover from their symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense mood swings. Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience a high, or manic, states and low, or depressive states. These episodes may last for several weeks to months.

Manic symptoms may include:

  • Extremely high energy
  • Feeling very productive
  • Experiencing strong levels of happiness
  • Speaking quickly
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
  • Increased irritability
  • Performing reckless behavior

Depressive symptoms are often the opposite of manic symptoms. They may include:

  • Strong feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Low energy levels
  • Experiencing delusions or hallucinations
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Low interest in daily activities
  • Feelings of self-doubt, pessimism, or guilt

Getting treatment for bipolar disorder is important, because if left untreated, bipolar disorder can result in many challenges, including substance use, relationship problems, or suicidal ideation. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, bipolar disorders “co-occur at high prevalence” with substance use disorder

Receiving a diagnosis from a medical provider is the first step towards obtaining treatment. Once a diagnosis has been established, your provider may work with you to develop a supportive treatment plan that may consist of medications or psychotherapy.

Famous people diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic depression)

Bipolar disorder may significantly impact your life, even seemingly positive people can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. With treatment, bipolar disorder may become a small part of your life story, but without the proper care, bipolar disorder may harm you or those you love and you may spend your life battling bipolar disorder. To help you understand the complexities of this disorder, here are 10 famous people with bipolar disorder as well as some of the things we can learn from their stories:

1. Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010 when she was 22 years old. Before getting her bipolar disorder diagnosis, she experienced depression at a young age. Like many famous people with bipolar disorder, Lovato’s manic episodes may have positively impacted her career. During manic episodes, the singer would write several songs in the middle of the night. Her depressive episodes were mischaracterized as depression.

At first, no one in Lovato’s life recognized the signs of bipolar disorder. With therapy and treatment, Lovato has been able to take control over her symptoms from her bipolar illness. In the years since her diagnosis, Lovato has opened up about her struggles and become a mental health activist, advocating for therapy and treatment.

2. Jean-Claude Van Damme

Actor Jean-Claude Van Damme is another famous person whose life was affected by undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Before his diagnosis, Van Damme unknowingly managed his symptoms by training in ballet and martial arts. After his acting and stage career launched in 1988, he experienced four failed marriages and cocaine addiction as a result of his bipolar disorder.

Van Damme was eventually diagnosed with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, a variant of bipolar disorder in which individuals experience at least four manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes in one year. With treatment and medication, the actor was able to overcome his bipolar disorder.

3. Catherine Ζeta-Jones

Welsh actress Catherine Ζeta-Jones is one example of how stressful events can be a trigger for bipolar disorder or bipolar episodes. In 2011, when her husband, Michael Douglas, had been battling with throat cancer, Zeta-Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. 

Zeta-Jones has learned to live with bipolar disorder, continuing to act and parent her two children. 

4. Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry is a British comedian, writer, actor, and radio host. Fry first discussed his diagnosis in a BBC documentary called “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”. He has since become a mental health advocate, helping spread awareness of challenges like bipolar disorder. Part of his advocacy work involves serving as the president of the UK-based charity Mind. According to Mind, “Stephen has been a tireless campaigner, supporter and advocate for everyone experiencing mental health problems”.

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5. Carrie Fisher

American actress Carrie Fisher is best known for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, but not everyone knows about her struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder. Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24. Before her diagnosis, she tried to contain her manic episodes by using drugs. She didn't accept her diagnosis of bipolar disorder until a drug overdose four years after her original diagnosis.

Like some other celebrities with bipolar disorder, Fisher eventually sought treatment and medication after experiencing manic and depressive episodes. Fisher and advocated passionately about bipolar disorder, even writing an advice column for The Guardian.

6. Amy Winehouse

British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse, who died at the age of 27 from a drug overdose, struggled with substance use and what experts believe was untreated bipolar disorder. Winehouse is one example of the many artists and creatives whose work is fueled by their manic and depressive episodes while making music. Although she used her art to explore the symptoms of her mental illness, Winehouse did not receive treatment for her bipolar disorder. Ultimately, her symptoms may have contributed to her untimely death.

7. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain, who is famous for writing songs and being the lead singer for Nirvana, is another example of an artist whose bipolar disorder and addiction seemed to fuel his fame. His career ended in tragedy when the Nirvana front man took his own life in 1994 at the age of 27. Cobain was initially misdiagnosed as living with severe depression but later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD. 

8. Winston Churchill

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is known for being an army officer in World War I, author, and politician during World War II. Most people don't know that Churchill experienced depressive episodes, which he referred to as his 'black dog.' Churchill's doctor diagnosed him with bipolar disorder after witnessing symptoms including mania, depression, and suicidal ideation.

Churchill’s story is evidence that that people with bipolar disorder can live a functional  and productive life, while achieving great things. Although bipolar disorder can be a difficult diagnosis to receive, it doesn’t define your life.

9. Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson is a prolific actor, but he’s received negative press for multiple incidents such as being arrested for drunk driving in 2006, making angry anti-Semitic comments, and threatening his ex-girlfriend in 2010. 

In a 2008 documentary, Gibson revealed that he'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His treatment has not been made public, and his controversial actions along with his erratic behavior may be evidence that his bipolar disorder is untreated.

10. Sinéad O'Connor

Many individuals are misdiagnosed when they actually have bipolar disorder. But some people are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder when they actually have another mental health condition, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s what happened in the case of Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O'Connor, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after becoming depressed and suicidal.

After starting a treatment plan that involved medication, O'Connor's suicidal thoughts went away, and she was able to move forward in life. The singer was on anti-psychotic medication for eight years before she began to question her diagnosis, eventually finding out that she had PTSD. As she revealed to People Magazine, she also lives with borderline personality disorder. O'Connor's story shows that second opinions can be important when diagnosing mental illness.

Getty/AnnaStills
Symptoms of mental health conditions can be hard to manage

Other famous people with bipolar disorder 

  • Jimi Hendrix – The rock guitar legend wrote a song, “Manic Depression,” detailing his struggles with mood swings. 
  • Mariah Carey – the famous American singer-songwriter and record producer was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Her bipolar diagnosis was discovered after the start struggled with exhaustion following a break-up. 
  • Selena Gomez – the young TV and movie star opened up about her personal life and said that she had been diagnosed with and received treatment for bipolar disorder after experiencing manic depressive episodes. 
  • Brian Wilson – the Beach Boys singer was diagnosed with both schizophrenia and mild bipolar disorder triggered by drug addiction and drug use.
  • Ted Turner – Turner was the founder of Turner Broadcasting and CNN, he started with a small independent television station in Atlanta and grew it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.
  • Frank Sinatra –the iconic musician and winner of the Academy Award for best-supporting actor, he struggled with anger and bouts of depression, once stating he “lived a life of violent emotional contradictions”. 
  • Francis Ford Coppola – Coppola is an American film director, writer, and producer who was diagnosed with symptoms of mania and depression in 1977. 

Mental health care for bipolar disorder

Examples of famous people with bipolar disorder help spread awareness, encourage people to seek out diagnosis and treatment, and warn about the risks of misdiagnosis or lack of treatment. While these examples show how bipolar disorder can fuel creative and productive activity, they also show how, if untreated, this illness may have serious consequences.

Getting a proper diagnosis and following a treatment plan created by a medical professional is the best way to manage bipolar disorder. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, establishing a treatment plan with a mental health professional like a doctor or counselor is a good first step toward getting the support you need. Treatment options include:

  • Medications to either prevent manic or depressive episodes or treat bipolar symptoms when they occur
  • Lifestyle modifications like exercise, practices that improve your sleep hygiene, and a well-balanced diet
  • Talk therapy methods like CBT to help you develop coping mechanisms to minimize your symptoms

Online therapy for bipolar disorder

Many people with bipolar disorder get support through online therapy. Online therapy works particularly well for people with bipolar disorder because appointments may still occur, even during depressive episodes where your energy levels and mood may make it feel difficult to leave the home. Because all licensed counselors are available virtually, periods of depression don’t need to disrupt your treatment plan. Additionally, getting online therapy can help reduce the stigma of getting mental health treatment. 

When you sign up for online therapy with BetterHelp, you may be matched with a licensed counselor suited to your specific needs and preferences within 24–48 hours. You can easily connect from a smartphone, tablet, or computer and communicate with your therapist in the way that makes you feel most comfortable, including with live phone, video, and chat sessions. 

Many people with bipolar disorder have benefitted from online counseling with BetterHelp. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

BetterHelp counselor reviews

“Rachel is a great listener and has a wide experience. She provided me with useful surveys and resources. As a bipolar, I have better managed my mood swings due to her help in cognitive therapy.”

“Bethany has helped me find the confidence to describe what it is like to be a woman like me. I think the way I would be diagnosed is bipolar. But for me, it is about being a pendulum, always in motion, swinging from one extreme to the other. And Bethany is my tether. She will call me back if I start swinging too fast or too hard. But she doesn't tell me I shouldn't be swinging. If I swim too far into the ocean, she'll call me back to shore. I can hear her voice, no matter how far I swim. Because I know sometimes I want to keep swimming even if I am tired. But Bethany is my tether. She calls me back to shore and reminds me to rest. She is teaching me to tether myself to my friends and family. I know how to keep myself safe, and it is by asking others to be a tether when I go too far.”

Takeaway

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition characterized by intense mood swings. If you have bipolar disorder, you’re not alone; many people are living with bipolar disorder, including several famous celebrities. If you’re experiencing bipolar disorder symptoms, it’s important to get treatment. Online therapy is a proven treatment method that helps those with bipolar disorder manage their symptoms. To make online therapy one component of your bipolar disorder treatment plan, get started with BetterHelp.

Find support for bipolar disorder symptoms
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