By Dan McLaughlin
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a condition that causes extreme mood swings. People suffering from bipolar experience manic (feeling very high) and and depressive (low and lethargic) episodes.
One in every 100 adults will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at some point in their life. There are different types of the condition, including Type I, Type II and a milder form called cyclothymia (which Stephen Fry noted that the Americans jokingly call 'Bipolar-lite').
It does not discriminate, and it can affect anyone. However, creative people are more likely to suffer from the mental illness. A study found that painters, musicians, writers and dancers are 25 per cent more likely to carry the gene variants that lead to depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
A myriad of creative geniuses, from Vincent Van Gogh to Virginia Woolf, Robin Williams to Catherine Zeta Jones, have all been plagued with manic depression.
Genius is not achieved through bipolar disorder; it is achieved in spite of it.
With the Daily Mail claiming it is a "fashionable" condition, bipolar is not at all glamorous. A third of people with bipolar disorder have attempted suicide, and the suicide rate is nearly 20 times higher than normal, according to the Telegraph.
Coming out as bipolar from people in the limelight leads to further exposure of the mental illness and the next step to removing the stigma surrounding manic depression. Although the Mail claims it is fashionable, and could result in a fervour in diagnosis, it does mean more and more people will be treated for the condition who would not usually seek help.
Stephen Fry's eye-opening documentary on bipolar disorder, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, saw the actor and comedian - who suffers from cyclothymia - in conversation with both celebrities and members of the public coping with the condition.
He advises family and friends of people with bipolar to never ask them why they are depressed, but to try and understand "the blackness, the lethargy, the hopelessness and loneliness" they are experiencing.
He said: "Be there for them when they come through the other side. It's hard to be friend to someone who's depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest and best things you will ever do."
In the BBC documentary, he discussed the condition with bipolar poster child and Star Wars actor, the late Carrie Fisher, who passed away from a heart attack in December, aged 60.
The Guardian tells you to "forget the gold bikini", the iconic costume worn by Carrie Fisher in Return of the Jedi, and focus on her honesty about coping with bipolar disorder. For people with mental illness, they argue, Carrie Fisher was a queen.
In her 2008 memoir, Wishful Drinking, detailing her battle with mental illness and addiction, she wrote: “One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder.
"In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside).
"At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
Before her untimely death, the actor responded to a question about bipolar in her Guardian advice column. She ended the column with the command: "As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do."
Although she is no longer with us, there are many people who cope with bipolar disorder every single day. And if you are feeling alone, remember: there will always be a bipolar brother or sister watching over you. Now, in the immortal words of Carrie Fisher, show us what you can do.