Mel Gibson: Bipolar Disorder No Excuse for Bad Behavior

mel gibsonIf listening to the Mel Gibson tapes made you wonder if he was mentally ill, you're half right.

In the 2008 documentary Acting Class of 1977, monstrous Mel said that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"I had really good highs but some very low lows," Gibson said. "I found out recently I'm manic depressive."

But does that mean Mel has an excuse for his bad behavior?

Not exactly.


"Manic depression is an illness that needs treatment and has effective treatment," Dawnmarie Risley, an osteopathic physician specializing in psychiatry who deals primarily with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia patients in her California practice, tells The Stir.

"While it is not an excuse for bad behavior, it’s an explanation. Manic patients behave in ways that is uncharacteristic of themselves. This behavior is a result of their illness," Dr. Risley says. "Unfortunately, for some, their lives can be destroyed because of it. There are countless bipolar patients imprisoned because of something they did under the influence of a manic episode. In reality, they should be offered hospitals where they can get help for their illness."

Just hearing the tapes -- which Risley said were disturbing -- she can't make a diagnosis of whether Gibson is telling the truth about his disorder.

But if he was in a manic state, the activity matches, she says. So The Stir asked Dr. Risley to explain what it would be like to be in Oksana Grigorieva's position.

So what IS bipolar disorder? Is it the same thing as being manic depressive?

Manic depression and Bipolar disorder are used interchangeably. One can have a manic episode without ever having an episode of depression. We will focus on symptoms of a manic and hypomanic episode. The symptoms are the same, but differ in duration and severity.

If the symptoms last for a week and cause impairment in the persons routine (unable to attend work, get fired, having problems out of the ordinary with friends or family), then a manic episode may have occurred. If the symptoms last for a short duration, at least 4 days, but are not severe enough to cause impairment in his daily activities, a hypomanic episode may have occurred.

When in a manic or hypomanic episode, you may notice your loved one having an irritable, expansive or elevated mood. This is not just excessively happy, but euphoric or “high.” Your loved one may not show restraint in expressing his feelings, or may be easily annoyed or provoked to anger. This is not an extension of the person’s normal mood, but is clearly different from his usual non-depressed mood. Your loved one may experience all of these moods, in a short span of time, known as “mood lability.”

In addition, your loved one may have 3 or 4 or more additional symptoms, together, with the mood disturbance:

  1. One may notice your loved one with an inflated self-esteem or grandiosity. Patients in a manic episode have claimed that they are disciples of Jesus, are Jesus Christ, are reincarnations of important historical figures, are 5 star military generals, on secret missions for the CIA or speak multiple languages which turn out to be gibberish when challenged.
  2. You may hear your loved one in the middle of the night, working or may be out all night, not getting any sleep, or only a few hours, yet feel completely rested. It seems, that they just don’t need any sleep. And they don’t. Patients in a manic episode may only sleep three hours and feel completely rested.
  3. They are talkative, or have a pressure to keep talking. They may even appear to be talking to themselves, but in actuality, they just can’t stop talking. They have a NEED to talk. Pressured speech is a driven speech. It is rapid and difficult to follow. It can sometimes be slurred or difficult to understand, as the person’s thoughts are running so quickly, he can’t put all of his thoughts into words. It is very difficult to interrupt a manic person, and often irritates him when you do.
  4. Patients have described their thoughts as “racing” or you may notice their ideas changing rapidly. Their speech still flows, but their ideas do not. This is called “flight of ideas.” You may notice that the person will jump from subject to subject in a single conversation.
  5. A patient in a manic state may involve himself in pleasurable activities that have potential for dangerous consequences. It is not uncommon for a patient experiencing a manic episode to go into serious debt and can bankrupt themselves.
  6. The bottom line - manics spend! They may also engage in sexual indiscretions, having sex with multiple partners, masturbating excessively, or even exposing themselves in public. It isn’t uncommon for those in a manic or hypomanic state to accumulate a multitude of speeding tickets.

Other things can mimic a manic episode and include someone who is high on cocaine or methamphetamines, intoxicated by alcohol or intoxicated by caffeine. Agitation as the result of steroid treatments (such as for multiple sclerosis) and Grave’s disease (Hyperthyroidism) can also mimic a manic episode.

Is belligerent activity common with bipolar disorder?

In a manic episode, yes!

Should the partner/spouse of a manic depressive be living in fear?

Fear, no. Concern, yes. And the person’s family needs to recruit help for the loved one suffering from a manic episode. State laws vary regarding hospitalization. A person in an acutely manic episode most likely needs hospitalization to regain stability.

In California and many other states, to meet criteria for hospitalization a person must be either: gravely disabled; a danger to himself; or a danger to others.

If the person of concern is threatening to others, a threat to himself or cannot meet his needs for food, clothing or shelter, a police officer can take the individual to the hospital for an evaluation. This does not mean that a person has to say he is going to kill someone, or kill himself, but can imply any threat to harm another or himself.

How can the person on the other side of a manic episode best deal with that person?

Don’t go it alone. Get help. Call 911 and get help if you need it. Don’t try to confront the individual about the illness with statements like “you need medications,” “you’re crazy” or denigrating comments.

The person is ill and in need of help. Do not try to correct the person on his delusions. It won’t help. If your loved one says, “I’m Jesus Christ” ask to clarify. Ask how this happened. Show interest. But don’t say things like “you are not” as it will just further escalate the person into his potential for violence.

Does someone in your life have bipolar disorder?


Image via Made in Hollywood/Flickr

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