For the Anger, Rage and Emotional Volatility of Bipolar Disorder, Type II Patients & Their Families

Actor Mel Gibson’s Vitriolic Rant, Was He a Ticking Time Bomb Waiting to Self-Destruct?

By Mary Nelson-Haffner

Celebrities, public officials and politicians’ lives imploding before our eyes have prompted an avalanche of opinions in coffee shops, on the airwaves and in website chat rooms around the blogosphere. Another popular celebrity that publicly self-destructed this year is Academy Award winning director and a-list actor, Mel Gibson. No stranger to controversy, his career had already survived and rehabbed from a racist and anti-semantic diatribe he went on years ago after a DUI arrest.

The latest controversy involved leaked audiotapes to an entertainment website, that involved an argument between Gibson and his former Russian girlfriend, and mother of his young child, Oksana Grigorieva. The firestorm of reactions to his latest verbal eruption has people wondering if there is a disturbing mental illness that was responsible for igniting his deeply embedded fury. Millions listened to the profanity filled-rants on TV shows, cable, and radio, online and in youtube clips. The news media was abuzz with debates over whether his career has seen its final act.

Most disturbing in his tirade is alleged domestic abuse and violent warnings that were made to Greigorieva that involve vulgar verbal assaults and death threats. Gibson’s actions have prompted a formal criminal investigation by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and prosecutors. In the tapes, it is alleged that he hit Grigorieva in the face, breaking the veneers on her teeth, and hit her once while she was holding their baby. Some domestic abuse advocates are cheering that Grigorieva was smart enough to get her verbal threats and abuse documented, and most importantly, reported to the authorities.

Unfortunately, the horrific exchange, played for the world to hear, is for some families a painful, yet familiar soundtrack they experience first-hand behind closed doors in homes across the country. In many domestic violence altercations, often that involve substance abuse, the result is violent beatings, prison sentences and death. In Gibson’s recent rampage, many professionals have speculated whether his actions were the result of a bipolar condition that was not being treated or out of control. In a 2008 report in the Sydney Morning Herald they quote Gibson in a 2002 documentary as saying, “I recently found out I’m manic depressive.” Gibson has also gone on record as saying he started abusing alcohol at the age of 13. Many would take that to conclude his problems stem from alcohol abuse and impulsive, destructive behavior. However, if that becomes the last line to this media story, keen mental health observers claim there are underlying issues that need and beg to be explored.

As armchair counselors debated on their blogs as to whether Gibson is really bipolar or a misogynistic, racist jerk, professional psychologists and psychiatrists preferred to hone in on his history and behavior, that often reveals more telling signs. As mental health writer and bipolar sufferer, John McManamy wrote on his blog, “Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose, particularly because those with the illness tend to feel great when they’re manic, oblivious when those around them think they’re behaving like jerks. It is even harder for celebrities to be diagnosed because many of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, excessive spending, drug/alcohol abuse, promiscuity and arrogance are prevalent in Hollywood anyway.”

Most people believe that a diagnosis of being “bipolar,” is someone with an illness where the person or patient flips back and forth between contrasting or “polar” opposite moods, often referred to as euphoric or dysphonic states. One would also assume someone in that much mental disorder would be easy to spot and have difficulty functioning. If someone like Mel Gibson is bipolar, how could he have been named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man in America” in 1985, or chosen along with Michael Moore as Time Magazine’s “Men of the Year” in 2004, and generously donate millions of dollars
to philanthropic organizations around the world. How could he have held it together this long to run a successful movie production studio, win a coveted Academy Award as well as produce, direct, and star in movies that have grossed over two billion dollars in the U.S. alone.

Southwest Florida psychotherapist, Dr. Michael J. Woulas, Ph.D. would say that much of the symptoms of bipolar disorders are misunderstood, and sadly misdiagnosed a large majority of the time. While patients suffering from Bipolar Disorder, Type I often have major coping problems in life, those with Type II are high-functioning in some areas of their lives, or their illness is often not discovered until traumatic events lead to troubles with the law, domestic and substance abuse, as well as mental breakdowns. Woulas is trying to educate and advocate more understanding about mental health disorders, how they lead to abuse and violence in our society, and more specifically explain how bipolar needs to be viewed more as a spectrum disorder, as many professionals are now doing with Autism.

In a 2008 American Psychological Association symposium, Frederick Goodwin MD, former head of the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), observed that clinicians are now seeing patients in states “altered by antidepressants.” The symposium reported that general practitioners write eighty-six percent of antidepressant scripts. Moreover, fifty percent of those with bipolar have been misdiagnosed by their psychiatrists. It is these misdiagnoses that exacerbate the public’s understanding of bipolar disorders.

Woulas has recently authored a book about the often little known diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Type II. His book is titled, “The Ticking Time Bomb.” The subtitle reads, “for the anger, rage, and emotional volatility of Bipolar Disorder, Type II patients & their families.” I think there would be little argument among the public that Gibson, along with other public figures lives were ticking towards self-destruction. The problem is for the millions of people and families trying to get help that are not surrounded by Hollywood handlers. These people and their loved ones need compassion, information, treatment, and direction. Woulas, who treats many patients suffering from bipolar or other mental health disorders also launched a companion website for his book called, HereIsHelp.net. On the website, people can get information on the symptoms and treatment for Bipolar Disorder, Type II and visitors to the site can link directly to the publisher to purchase a copy of his new book.

To understand this condition, Woulas explains some of the common misconceptions surrounding this disorder, and how we can draw some parallels from Gibson’s troubles to many others facing these problems out of the public eye. Many with bipolar symptoms use alcohol or other substances to deal with their disorder. One question is why self-medication through alcohol and drugs is so commonly used by patients, and what problems result when people develop addictions along with their disorder? “Self-medication is common due to a person that is misdiagnosed. This often leads to incorrect medication prescribed that does not treat the underlying bipolar mood condition. Symptoms become magnified due to the use of substances. For example, increased anger, rage and abuse (both emotional and physical) occur following substance abuse. At this stage, those seeking help may be treated for what is referred to as a dual diagnosis,” says Woulas.

When a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder, Type II experiences impulsivity and launches into rages, their belief structure or negative emotions become amplified. Woulas strongly suggests, “if someone in a domestic, or personal relationship with a loved one who is possibly suffering from a bipolar disorder, and they encounter the person acting irrationally or with hostility, they should remove themselves from the situation to avoid injuries or some catastrophic event from taking place.”

“Paranoia, and a tendency to blame others is also a symptom of Bipolar Disorder, Type II, since the ‘stressors’ triggering anger and rage come from external events. The patients automatically blame others for their innate symptoms,” says Woulas. A person that is correctly diagnosed should receive psychotherapy from a trained therapist, familiar with type II bipolar disorders, to improve their psychological health, as well as learn how to regulate their moods and develop new coping mechanisms.

Woulas points out, “many people with depression could actually be suffering from Bipolar Disorder, Type II. The treatment and medications could be different for those not correctly identified. Generally an antidepressant is used to help with the depression phase, and a mood stabilizer is often added to help with hypomania, irritability, and rage symptoms.” This disorder can also develop in childhood, with some in the medical community missing the signs. “It is often confused with ADD/ADHD and other behavioral problems of childhood and adolescence. That is why parents, families, and pediatricians, as well as school counselors, teachers, and administrators should become more educated about the disorder,” stressed Woulas.

As a practicing psychotherapist, treating patients for over thirty years, Woulas has witnessed and helped people who have lost years of their life because they were not correctly diagnosed, and he is now actively working to educate families about Bipolar Disorder, Type II. “The fact that families and individual lives are being destroyed in epic proportions from a correctable mood disorder is very frustrating, and it motivated me to write the book and create the website,” exclaims Woulas. It is important to note that many people with the appropriate medication and psychotherapy can achieve happiness and health if they get the correct therapy.

“It is important that primary care practitioners, people working in the judicial system, community mental health agency workers, domestic violence shelters, human resource directors and the media become aware and educated about this disorder to help prevent the aftermath and societal consequences that can result from a person’s anger, rage and emotional volatility if it goes untreated,” exclaimed Woulas.

For more information about Bipolar Disorder, Type II, you can purchase Dr. Woulas’s book, “The Ticking Time Bomb” through a link on his website, HereIsHelp.net. The website also has helpful knowledge about the disorder, and ways to recognize the symptoms.

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