In the years since the creation of the Social Security Disability program, the list of impairments that qualify for benefits has been greatly expanded. In the program’s earliest years, only people with debilitating physical disorders qualified for SSD benefits. Now, however, the listing of impairments has grown, and it now contains several mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. The Social Security Administration, in adding these ailments to the list, has recognized that mental illness may render an individual incapable of performing full-time work and receiving an income.
Despite this, there is a great deal of stigma that still surrounds bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Many express skepticism that these diseases even exist, or that they truly prevent sufferers from working. Therefore, when a public figure announces that he or she has struggled with the disease, that announcement can be of unparalleled value in removing the stigma that still surrounds these illnesses.
Recently, Oscar-winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones released a statement describing her struggle with mental illness in the wake of husband Michael Douglas’ diagnosis with stage IV throat cancer. Zeta-Jones said that she has always struggled with depression, but it wasn’t until she checked into a mental health facility that she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.
Bipolar, formerly known as manic depressive illness, is characterized by inexplicable mood swings from deep depression and anger to euphoria and impaired judgment and back again. Because stress can trigger the disease, it is not unlikely that Zeta-Jones’ husband’s diagnosis caused her mental illness to worsen and change.
Now, the actress is working to spread information and awareness of the disease. “This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them,” she said. “If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it’s worth it.”
Source: ABC News, “Catherine Zeta-Jones Hopes to Remove Stigma Around Bipolar Disorder”, Amanda Keegan and Leezel Tanglao, 20 April 2011