health

Don't start celebrating Jessica Marais's admission about bi-polar just yet...

Jessica Marais is 29. She’s famous. She’s a mother, a partner, an actress. And she’s living with bipolar disorder.

Jessica gave a really candid interview to Australian Women’s Weeklyout now, admitting for the first time that she’s a mental health survivor. It’s huge news – a brave move for her personally, and an exceptionally good conversation-starter.

We had a simple first reaction: brava, Jessica Marais. Well done and thank you so much for your honesty. But it’s actually more complex than that as we found out collecting as many different takes on the issue as we could.

While some people were fist-pumping at the revelations and saying that a celebrity admission normalises mental illness, others were worried that decision to tell the public could give other people living with a mental illness false hope that they too could manage the illness drug-free.

But first, what Jessica actually said to Weekly:

Bipolar episodes have been a part of my life from about 12 years old.

I’ve had cognitive therapy training, so I choose not to be medicated. I have developed ways to talk myself down from any ledges I find myself on. And I am very lucky that I have a very patient partner who supports me.

My bipolar is actually very manageable. And having a child to pull me out of it has made all the difference in the world.

In my case, it’s hard to separate what is due to trauma or stress and what is due to a simple chemical imbalance. Suffice to say, it’s become a manageable part of my life. I acknowledge it, I know when an episode is coming on and I work hard to manage it.

Professor Philip Mitchell, Director of The Black Dog Institute and head of UNSW school of Psychiatry, gave Mamamia some background information on what exactly Bipolar Disorder is:

Bipolar disorder is actually a relatively common condition, affecting around one in 75 Australians. It typically involves extreme and uncontrollable mood swings – from manic highs to the depths of despair.

Bipolar can be extremely debilitating but with the right treatment and support most people living with bipolar disorder lead normal and productive lives.

We asked some further questions about how bipolar is best treated and whether it could be damaging to those living with bipolar to hear about a celebrity who claims to manage their illness drug-free. But, understandably, The Black Dog Institute was reluctant to comment specifically on this case.

And so Mamamia had a chat with some readers who have lived with bipolar or have experience living with (or loving) someone with bipolar. We’ve asked them what their reactions were to Jessica’s brave revelation.

Here’s what they had to say:

“Thank you, Jessica! Celebrities have this unique superpower, to spark discussions about important things. When Jessica chose to ‘come out’ as a person with a mental illness, she reminds us all that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to anyone, even beautiful famous actresses and that really helps us get rid of the stigma that comes with it. Just like Catherine Zeta Jones and Demi Lovato, the more powerful women who talk about their condition, the more help we have putting bipolar disorder on the agenda.” Annie, 27.

“My only worry is, some of her remarks may give people suffering either false hope, or make them feel their own ordeal has been trivialised. When she says she’s got a way to talk herself down from any ledges she finds herself on, it simplifies the issue. I think it’s amazing she has the ability to do that, but not everyone suffering from a mental disorder does. I just hope it doesn’t make people suffering scared to ask for help, or fall under a naive perception that when things gets bad, that they can figure it out themselves.” Beth, 23.

Jessica with her partner James Stewart.

“Treating bipolar disorder with the love of your partner, the pleasantness of being a parent, and a few rounds of therapy is like saying you can live on sunshine and rainbows for sustenance. Most people who have the illness just suffer. They suffer until they find the right medication to correct their chemical imbalance. It’s painful, there are so many side-effects to every medication, some of them really awful. I feel like Jessica is undermining the idea that people need medication to function, by flaunting her decision not to get medicated.” Sarah, 31.

“Going on medication made me put on weight, my hair started falling out, I get migraines so bad they make me cry. I can understand why Jessica, a beautiful woman whose career as an actress requires her to look a certain way, wouldn’t want to go through that. But it doesn’t help us normal sufferers to see this glamorous woman make it look easy.” Peta, 43. 

“This may be a sign of me not understanding the issue completely, so is a very genuine question. I’ve heard some people are overmedicated for mental illness, could it be a good thing for her for that she’s not on medication? If she’s found another way of coping with it, that she feels is just as effective as medication, isn’t that a good thing?” Ashley, 22. 

“If Jessica encourages just one person to go off their meds because she doesn’t need them, then she’s done us a disservice. Most people can’t survive without it, so I hope people don’t start thinking her experience is the worst it gets when you have bipolar disorder.” Odette, 36. 

“This is wonderful. Jessica has made people want to understand an illness that, to most, is a total enigma. As for anyone saying that she’s irresponsible for not being medicated, we can’t force this woman to deal with her illness in any particular way. Just because she’s been courageous enough to share this, doesn’t mean she is dealing with it perfectly. You can’t expect that of someone, you can only ever hope that someone with a mental illness finds a way to survive. If she’s found her way, and she’s decided the best thing for her is to collapse frequently but rely on the support of her family, then that decision belongs to her.” Katie, 27. 

The Black Dog Institute is a world-leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar. If you or anyone you know is suffering from a mental health issue, you can visit their site here or call 0293824530. 

Do you or does someone you know live with a mental illness? What does it mean for them or you when a celebrity reveals they are living with a mental illness too?

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