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The Science of Celebrity Breakdowns

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Nearly 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, from depression to bipolar disorder, and celebrities certainly are no immune. While their breakdowns are public, there are common threads through some of the most notorious celebrity meltdowns. We at Best Masters in Counseling have taken a look at a total of ten different celebrity breakdowns and identified the five most common causes. We present you with "The Science of a Celebrity Breakdown"


Sufferers of bipolar disorder experience marked mood swings; in fact, the disease formerly was called "manic depression," indicating the dual nature of the moods of those with the condition.


In the space of about a decade, Gibson went from an Academy Award-winning director and actor to a punch line. Racist rants and rage-filled phone messages were likely symptoms of Gibson's bipolar disorder, which he vaguely acknowledged in a 2002 documentary.

In Gibson's case, he long had been a jovial prankster on film sets (the manic phase of bipolar includes elevated moods and talkativeness), but in recent years, he seemed more hostile, such as during his 2006 arrest on suspicion of drunken driving in which he unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade against a police officer. He also was the subject of scorn after taped phone conversations between Gibson and his girlfriend were released; on the tapes, Gibson spewed insults, racial slurs and death threats.


As Lois Lane in the "Superman" films of the 1970s and '80s, Kidder became one of Hollywood's top actresses, but by the 1990s, she was suffering from serious bipolar disorder. In a bizarre 1996 episode, Kidder was found staying among a community of homeless people in a cardboard box, disheveled and missing teeth.

Kidder had long struggled with mental illness, including thoughts of suicide. At age 14, she took a handful of painkillers after being dumped by a boyfriend. Kidder's bipolar disorder fueled paranoia, which led her to throw out her purse (which she believed to be carrying a bomb), leading her eventually to the streets, where she was taken in by a group of homeless men.


OCD is an anxiety disorder connected to an imbalance of serotonin, a chemical that serves as a messenger in the brain. Those suffering from OCD have constant, unwanted thoughts (obsession) and cope with the thoughts through actions (compulsions). This often leads to bizarre behavior, such as frequent hand washing or rituals involving doors or appliances.

Several theories suggest that OCD stems from a brain injury, but those theories have yet to be proved. Several studies have shown brain abnormalities in OCD patients, but common threads have not yet been discovered. More than 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from OCD.


Hughes was a wealthy socialite, film director and airplane enthusiast. By the end of his life, though, he became consumed by obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hughes insisted on using tissues to pick up items for fear that he'd become infected by some disease. He also gave complex instructions to his aides for virtually all tasks, including handing him a spoon.

Very little was understood about OCD during Hughes' lifetime, so he was never able to seek adequate treatment. Toward the end of his life, he became extremely reclusive, living on the top floor of a Las Vegas hotel he owned and rarely venturing outside the suite. After a plane crash in 1946, Hughes became addicted to painkillers; that addiction eventually ended his life.


The comedian and TV star suffers from a debilitating fear of germs. This fear prevents him from even shaking hands with anyone for fear he'll contract an illness. Mandel once missed an appointment because he checked 32 times to make sure he had locked his door.

Mandel has used his celebrity status to raise awareness and acceptance of OCD, but it still impacts his life on a day-to-day basis. He won't touch money unless it's been washed; he avoids handrails; and he is plagued by disturbing thoughts that trigger anxiety.


Celebrities are perhaps doomed to be at risk of narcissistic personality disorder, which is marked by a heightened sense of self-importance and a constant need for attention and admiration. With agents, assistants and other yes-men constantly surrounding famous people, it's no wonder that so many of them seem to suffer from this condition - or at least are quite full of themselves.


The spectacular fall of the former star of TV's "Two and a Half Men" gave us the catchphrases "winning," "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA," but it also revealed how deluded Sheen was. Whether his antics were the result of drug abuse or a personality disorder, it was clear he was so disconnected from reality that he believed he was immune to harm and was himself a perfect individual.

Through a series of interviews last year, Sheen rambled about his lifestyle (which involved what he called marriages of the heart with several adult film stars), his contempt for the producers of his former show and his belief that he "cured" himself of alcoholism. He also claimed he was an F18 jet.


After rocketing to stardom in a series of Disney movies and "Mean Girls," Lohan's career standing has taken a major tumble. A series of arrests for drunken driving and drug possession landed the starlet in serious trouble with the law, and put her career basically out of business.

Throughout many court appearances and other legal proceedings, she has exhibited a disregard and disdain for the process, showing up late for court appearances or not completing ordered community service. In a now-infamous example, she was turned away from work at the Los Angeles County morgue after showing up late.


Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is among the most common mental illnesses among American adults, striking about 5 percent of Americans. It's not just having the blues; with major depression, feelings of sadness, anger, frustration or loss last for weeks and interfere with everyday life.

The exact cause is unknown, but many researchers believe it is caused by chemical changes in the brain that are triggered by a traumatic event such as a breakup, loss of job or death of a loved one.


In 2007, emergency personnel were called to the actor's home in Santa Monica, California. Wilson was taken to the hospital with cuts to his wrist and an unknown number of pills in his stomach after attempting suicide. While he never has discussed the incident, it is widely believed it was connected to depression and possibly drugs and alcohol.

After the episode, Wilson's publicist confirmed the actor was taking antidepressants, and he dropped out of his role in "Tropic Thunder," which went on to gross $110 million at the U.S. box office.


The multi-platinum pop singer famously battled depression in the 1970s and admitted himself into a hospital after attempting suicide by drinking furniture polish. In 2002, the singer spent time in an addiction/mental health center for alcohol abuse; two years later, he checked into rehab for "gastrointestinal distress."

Joel is famously unlucky in love, having been thrice divorced. Many suspect those failed relationships have spurred the Piano Man's depression.


Drug and alcohol addiction changes the addict's body chemistry by making them dependent on the substance to feel well. Heroin addicts often refer to the time they're not high as being "sick." For celebrities with ready access to substances, it can be difficult if not impossible to resist the lure.

Genetics plays a role in addiction, but other factors, such as anxiety, depression and stress, also can play a role.


Nearly from the moment she became famous, as the lead singer of Hole and as Kurt Cobain's wife, Love has struggled with drug addiction. But Cobain's suicide in 1994 led Love on a downward spiral that included losing custody of her daughter and dramatic weight loss that gave her a skeletal appearance.

Love has been through rehab several times and has been arrested repeatedly for drug possession and other suspected offenses. In more recent months, she has used Twitter as an outlet to express her dissatisfaction with her daughter, now an adult.


The massive success of the singer's debut song, "Baby One More Time," in 1999 had faded by the time of Spears' bizarre 2007 public meltdown that included a shaved head, an umbrella attack on a car and series of new tattoos.

Spears' mental state eventually deteriorated to the point that her father was placed in charge of her personal and financial affairs. The singer also has attended several drug rehabilitation programs and as of early 2012 was newly engaged and performing in support of a hit new album.