Catherine Zeta-Jones is treated for bipolar II disorder. What is it?


A representative for Catherine Zeta-Jones confirmed Wednesday that the actress recently underwent inpatient treatment for bipolar II disorder at a Connecticut mental health facility.

Booster Shots spoke about the disorder with David J. Miklowitz, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of “The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need to Know.”

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depression, is typically lifelong and recurrent, Miklowitz said. Some people have their first episode in childhood, others later in life; the majority, during the teen years. Some people experience episodes every few years; others are in and out of episodes constantly.


Bipolar I is characterized by severe manias, said Miklowitz, during which people either “feel on top of the world” or irritable and angry. They sometimes feel like they have superpowers or heightened perception; their thoughts race and they’re loaded with energy. Usually people with bipolar I swing between this manic state and a “flip side” of extreme depression during which they slow down, feel sad and lose interest in activities they usually enjoy (including sex). They can suffer from fatigue and insomnia, and can become suicidal.

People with bipolar II swing from severe depression to a milder and briefer manic state called hypomania. They aren’t impaired to the extent that folks with bipolar I can be. “People notice a change, but it’s not extreme,” Miklowitz said.

Usual treatments for bipolar II include medications and psychotherapy. In general, a patient with bipolar II might be hospitalized because outpatient interventions didn’t work and time away from stressors is needed to tweak medications or treatment plans. “One thing we know that we didn’t know 20 years ago is that it’s affected by stress,” Miklowitz said.

Zeta-Jones’ husband, actor Michael Douglas, was diagnosed with throat cancer last year. The Los Angeles Times that a Zeta-Jones friend told People magazine, “There’s no question it’s been a stressful year. ... Catherine has had to deal with Michael’s illness and that’s been hard.”

Miklowitz said that better medication options and targeted psychotherapy techniques have improved the prognosis for many people with bipolar disease. Instead of focusing on general support, therapists today teach patients and their families how to recognize and understand the triggers for mood changes and how to make changes to prevent severe episodes. Such efforts might include getting more sleep or adjusting medication.

Bipolar disorder and creativity have been linked, he added, noting that first-chair violinists are more likely to have been treated for the disease than others -- and that Tchaikovsky, Van Gogh and Hemingway were said to have been bipolar. (Click here for the Hollywood Reporter’s rundown of bipolar stars.)


The Los Angeles Times’ Ministry of Gossip blog, on the Zeta-Jones announcement.

Booster Shots wrote about speculation in March that Charlie Sheen suffered from bipolar disorder, too.