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5 famous women with mental illness who made their mark on the world

Recent studies have made the connection between creativity or a high IQ and mental health. We know of tortured male geniuses who suffered from bipolar / anxiety disorder or depression and yet created the world’s greatest work, be it Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, or Albert Einstein and John Nash. But there are plenty of female geniuses who dealt with mental illness while also contributing great works of art to the world.

J.K. Rowling


Even the famed creator of the wonderful wizarding world of spells and magic had to deal with a spell of depression. In 2008 she revealed her struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts as a single mother in her mid-20s, before her fame. She spent 9 months with cognitive behavioural therapy. “I really plummeted,” she revealed in an interview. “We’re talking suicidal thoughts here, we’re not talking ‘I’m a little bit miserable.'”


Catherine Zeta-Jones


Until April 2011, Academy Award-winning actor Catherine Zeta-Jones was best known for stellar performances in Traffic and Chicago and her high-profile marriage to actor Michael Douglas. However, the Welsh-born Hollywood star surprised everyone by announcing her diagnosis with bipolar disorder and that she was participating in inpatient treatment for the illness. While she has had a tough few years, from her husband’s cancer to her own very public battle with bipolar disorder, she is much stronger and is more open to talking about it.


Camille Claudel

Sculptor and Graphic Artist

Camille Claudel was a protégé of the progenitor of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin and when she also became his lover, it created a furor as Rodin was already in a committed relationship. Finally they broke it off after Camille lost a baby. But this was also the start of her battle with depression. Camille was a brilliant sculptor making great works of art like Wave, The Mature Age, and the Bronze Waltz. But she slowly lost her grip on reality from 1905 onwards. She ended up destroying some of her own statues, disappeared for a period of time and suffered from paranoia. She even accused Rodin of stealing her ideas and conspiring to kill her. She seemed to be suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. Her family committed her to an asylum where she lived for the next 30 years, even though doctors tried to persuade her family to let her go as she was clear headed whenever she was working on her sculptures. Ultimately Camille died at the age of 78 in the asylum.


Vivien Leigh


Vivien Leigh, who made headstrong Scarlet O’Hara come alive in “Gone With the Wind”, was a creative genius on stage and screen. And yet she also suffered from mania and depression along with tuberculosis, her entire life. In fact her personal torment was often instrumental in her being cast as a disturbed or mad heroine like Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. After a series of shock treatments, Vivien recovered briefly only to lapse back a few years later. Her major nervous breakdown occurred when she suffered a miscarriage which also proved to be the reason her marriage with actor Lawrence Olivier unraveled. She was finally diagnosed with cyclical manic-depression with hallucinations and was confined to a nursing home. She made a brief recovery to star in her last movie, only to die from tuberculosis at the age of 52 while filming “The Ship of Fools”. She was renowned for her remarkable ability to portray passionate heroines and her stardom despite her many illnesses.


Carrie Fisher


While Fisher is most noted for her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars. She is also the author of the best-selling book, Postcards from the Edge, a semi-autobiography of her time in rehabilitation for substance abuse. Diagnosed with manic depression, she initially refused treatment, which resulted in dire consequences. Now Fisher is determined to help others avoid the mistakes she made by not getting treatment. In 2002, Fisher was honored at the Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards luncheon for her commitment to speaking the truth about mental illness and braving national scrutiny to share her personal experience.

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