Celebrities with Special Needs- Part 2 (Catherine Zeta-Jones)

Special needs refer to the individual requirements of a person with a mental, emotional, or physical disability. People with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down Syndrome, dyslexia, blindness, mental illness, or cystic fibrosis, for example, may be considered to have special needs. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders gives guidelines for clinical diagnosis.

There are famous people with special needs in nearly every sector of sports, entertainment, politics, and academia. In fact, some of the most brilliant thinkers and artists of our time were diagnosed with special needs, and they’ve gone on to do great things in spite of the odds against them. In this series, we will discuss inspiring celebrities with special needs who won the respect and admiration of millions of people.

In Part 1, we discussed Temple Grandin, an American doctor of animal science and autism activist. In Part 2, we will cover Catherine Zeta-Jones and her battle with manic depression and activism to increase awareness about the Disorder. Part 3 will discuss Chris Burke, an actor and Goodwill Ambassador of the American Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

Part 2: Catherine Zeta-Jones

“This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them. If my revelation of having Bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.”– Catherine Zeta-Jones

Catherine Zeta-Jones was born in the Welsh town of Swansea on Sept. 25, 1969 to Patricia, an Irish seamstress and Dai, who ran a confectionary company. She started taking dance classes at the age of four, and by the age of 10, was performing regularly with the local church-sponsored theater group and already harboring dreams of a career singing and dancing onstage. When she was not in local productions, she was belting out Broadway numbers from atop the kitchen table for friends and family. Zeta-Jones’ father doubled as a supportive coach, taking her to auditions in London where the teen landed roles in productions of “Bugsy Malone” and “Annie.”

When Zeta-Jones was 14, a traveling musical theater production helmed by former Monkee Mickey Dolenz came to Swansea, casting local talent to participate in the chorus. Not only was Zeta-Jones chosen to perform, but producers cast her in a touring production of “The Pajama Game,” at which point she quit school, moved to London, and got her Actor’s Guild card.

In 1991, Zeta-Jones was offered a co-starring role as the eldest daughter in a boisterous farm family in the British TV series “The Darling Buds of May”. The show was a hit, and its three-year run turned Zeta-Jones into a bona fide TV star in England and she began to land offers in the United States.

With her extensive performing background and certifiable star status in the UK, Zeta-Jones chose to move to Los Angeles and take a crack at American film stardom. “The Mask of Zorro,” “Entrapment,” “Chicago,” and “High Fidelity” were some of the highlights of her movie career.

After seeing Zeta-Jones onscreen in “Zorro,” Michael Douglas who was 25 years her senior reportedly turned to a friend and said, “I don’t know who she is, but I’m gonna marry that woman.” The two became parents and subsequently married in 2000.

When Zeta-Jones was 41-years old, she began experiencing wild mood swings after her husband Michael Douglas went through a high-profile battle with stage IV throat cancer, Douglas’ son was imprisoned for selling methamphetamine, and that same year, Douglas’ endured a court fight with his first wife over proceeds from the “Wall Street” movie sequel. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic depressive illness, a mental illness characterized by mood swings between the two psychological pulls of depression and euphoria. Zeta-Jones is said to have been diagnosed with Bipolar II, which is a form of the disorder that is characterized by longer low periods. She checked herself into a mental facility for a brief stay to help her deal with the symptoms. Watch this video.
According to Dr. Igor Galynker, director of the Family Center for Bipolar Disorder at Beth Israel Medical Center, “Bipolar Disorder can start at any time in a person’s life and it’s a lifelong illness.”Stress is one common trigger for Bipolar Disorder, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. The condition can also be diagnosed if someone has a prolonged feeling of agitation, trouble sleeping, major changes in appetite, and thoughts of suicide.

A recent report showed about 6 million people (2.4% of people worldwide) have had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder at some point in their lifetime and that the U.S. has the highest lifetime rate, at 4.4%. According to Galynker, there’s hope for most who have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. “It is not curable, but it is treatable with medications and psychotherapy.” said Galynker. “People with Bipolar illness can have productive lives like anybody else, once they’re in treatment and compliant with treatment.”
Although some people feel that mental health conditions, including Bipolar Disorder, are stigmatizing, Zeta-Jones’ made a public announcement about her condition, hoping it will spark education about the disorder and help others seek help for their own mental health.

Do you or a family member have special needs? Twenty million American families have at least one family member with special needs, including my own family. Parents of those with special needs are tasked with planning for their children throughout their lifetime, as many of them will outlive their parents but might not be able to support themselves and live independently. You want to ensure that your family member with special needs will remain financially secure even when you are no longer there to provide support. A Special Needs Trust is one type of vehicle that provides funds with which a disabled person can maintain his or her quality of life, while still remaining eligible for needs-based programs that will cover basic health and living expenses. But many people with mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder are never officially declared to be “disabled,” and there are other types of trusts that are sometimes more appropriate for this type of special needs planning. We invite you to make an appointment for a free consultation with The Fairfax Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr P.C. to learn more about special needs planning.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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