Experts Respond: Bipolar Disorder and Catherine Zeta-Jones

The recent announcement from Catherine Zeta-Jones that she suffers from bipolar disorder has thrust the condition into the limelight. But what exactly is it?

Catherine Zeta-Jones’ revelation has caused a flurry of attention regarding bipolar disorder, with major news outlets around the world covering the story – and the New Zealand media is no exception, with the Press New Zealand Herald, Dominion Post, Otago Daily Times, TV3 and  TVNZ all reporting on the celebrity story.

The raised awareness of bipolar disorder prompted our colleagues at the UK SMC to collect comments from experts regarding the condition and the Zeta-Jones situation. Feel free to use these quotes in your articles. If you would like to talk to a local expert on bipolar disorder, please contact the NZ Science Media Centre (

Expert reaction to bipolar disorder in the news

Dr Daniel J Smith, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said:

“Bipolar disorder type II is a serious disorder of mood which can be very difficult to diagnose.  Most people with this problem experience delays of up to 10 years before finally getting the right diagnosis.  During that time they are often misdiagnosed as having unipolar depression.  This period of delayed diagnosis is important because antidepressants are not helpful for many patients with bipolar-type depression and, for a significant proportion, can actually make the long-term course of their illness worse.

“Bipolar disorder is a disorder of mood and behaviour characterised by recurrent episodes of depression and mania.  It probably affects about 3% of the population.  It differs from unipolar depression in that individuals experience mood problems at both extremes of the mood spectrum (from severe depression to severe manic symptoms).

“Many people with bipolar disorder experience a delay in diagnosis because milder symptoms of mania are often not reported to their doctor.  These individuals tend only to consult for help with periods of depression and it’s fair to say that many doctors do not systematically assess all of their depressed patients for a past history of manic symptoms (symptoms such as elevated or expansive mood, overactivity, decreased need for sleep, excessive self-esteem and risk-taking behaviour).  Recent research (including our own) suggests that a significant proportion – perhaps as much as 10% – of individuals currently diagnosed with recurrent unipolar depression may in fact have an undiagnosed bipolar spectrum disorder.”

Prof Nick Craddock, Professor of Psychiatry at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said:

“It is very helpful in breaking down stigma when celebrities talk about their illness.  However, it is important to remember that bipolar disorder is a severe, life threatening illness and that most people with bipolar illness are not celebrities.

“Bipolar disorder can be a severe, disabling and life-threatening illness but is currently poorly understood.  More research is vital to improve understanding and transform the lives of patients.

“Please see the following web-sites for high-quality information on this subject.”

** Bipolar Disorder Research Network (BDRN):
** Bipolar Education Programme Cymru (BEP-C):
** Bipolar Disorder Information:
** Action on Post-partum psychosis (APP):