read more: Boston Herald

[password]Other than being rich and famous, what do Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, and Britney Spears have in common?

More than likely, they all suffer from bipolar disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by extreme mood swings that affects close to 6 million Americans. Bipolar people fluctuate between periods of mania, in which they exhibit extreme energy, impulsivity and agitation, and periods of depression or despondency.

Now I’m no psychiatrist, and I have no idea whether Charlie, Lindsay, Mel or Brit have received formal diagnoses. But they are, quite obviously, battling some serious demons.

– Witness Charlie, as he rambles on about his Adonis DNA and his tiger blood.

– Witness Mel, as he rants and raves in a highly agitated state, spewing venom and vitriol at the mother of his child.

– Witness Britney, as she shaves her head before going postal on members of the paparazzi.

– Witness Lindsay driving around all night long, tweeting obsessively and shoplifting items she can certainly afford.

Lindsay, of course, is a known substance abuser who has been arrested twice for DUI. But her habitual failure to appear in court, her chronic lies and her repeated violations of the terms of her probation are signs that she suffers from an underlying mental condition.

Of course, in our culture of schadenfreude, it is easy to regard Lindsay and Britney as spoiled Hollywood brats and Mel and Charlie as abusive, narcissistic, misogynists. We condemn them and we mock them. But most of all, we gawk at them — as if they are animals in the zoo. And we wait to see what they will do next.

It is, indeed, difficult to sympathize with people who use their money and their fame to buy themselves second, third and fourth chances that no average person would receive. But the people who most deserve our scorn are the hangers-on who tell these celebrities what they want to hear, prop them up with praise and adoration, and discourage them from seeking serious medical attention.

Last week, Disney teen-queen Demi Lovato and Hollywood glamour-girl Catherine Zeta-Zones each announced that they are bipolar and have undergone treatment for the disorder.

Lovato, whom Disney was grooming to be the next Miley Cyrus, originally attributed her troubles (anorexia, bulimia) to her rapid rise to fame and to the glare of the spotlight. But, after receiving the bipolar diagnosis, Lovato says she has a better understanding of her behavior. While she often felt sad and depressed, Lovato tells People Magazine, there were times when she was so manic that she would stay up all night writing songs. That type of frenetic productivity, followed by periods of melancholy, is typical of the disorder.

For her part, Zeta-Jones says that doctors diagnosed her as bipolar when she sought treatment for what she believed to be simple depression brought on by her husband’s battle with cancer. In a statement, the Academy Award winning actress says, “[I]f my revelation  . . .  has encouraged one person to seek help  . . .  then it’s worth it.”

Zeta-Jones and Lovato have handled their diagnoses with dignity, grace and relatively little scandal.

The difference between these starlets and their bad-girl/bad-boy counterparts is simple: Zeta-Jones and Lovato are surrounded by people who understand that bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that requires consistent, ongoing medical treatment and, sometimes, a little bit of tough love.

Sadly, Sheen, LiLo, Gibson and Britney seem to be surrounded by “yes men” — users and enablers who would rather bask in the notoriety of their deeply troubled friends than get them the medical attention they need.

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