Maurice Benard - Actor

Spokesman for Bipolar Disorder

Maurice Benard
Actor Maurice Benard has used his struggles with bipolar disorder to become a spokesperson for the disease. Getty Images - WireImage - Marc Bryan-Brown

Maurice Benard, actor and spokesman for bipolar disorder, was born March 1, 1963 in the San Francisco area to parents from Nicaragua and San Salvador.

Who is Maurice Bernard?

Raised to be "macho," Benard began drinking and fighting in his teens, he told bp Magazine. Now he knows that the drinking was self-medicating. In his early 20s, his interest in acting became a passion that drove him to exhaust himself and led to a breakdown.

In 1987, he got a role on the ABC soap opera All My Children, and this was his ticket to steady work as an actor.

Since 1993, Benard has played the role of the handsome Sonny Corinthos on the soap opera General Hospital. In his ABC online biography, he states, "This role is what I do best. Sonny is unpredictable. You never know from one second to the next what he's thinking or feeling or planning. He's a man in personal conflict who maintains an outward appearance of calm at all times, at any cost." Benard received a Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for this role in 2003.

Maurice and Paula Benard live in the Los Angeles area and have two daughters and a son.

Maurice Benard's Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

For many years, Benard has spoken openly about his struggles with bipolar disorder. He was first hospitalized at 22 years of age. After seeing several doctors, he finally met a psychiatrist who looked at him and said, "You're manic depressive." This psychiatrist told him that it was a serious but treatable mental illness.

He was put on lithium and it "saved" him, he says. After two breakdowns caused by going off lithium, Benard now remains medication compliant.

Spokesperson for Bipolar Disorder

Benard works with Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association) as the spokesman for their public service awareness campaign called, "Bipolar Disorder: Do You Know It?" He is also a spokesman for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

He feels it is very important to get the word out about mental illness.

Incorporating Bipolar Disorder into Work

For Benard, getting the word out also meant writing bipolar disorder into the characterization of Sonny Corinthos. This included, during the 2006 season, a breakdown storyline so intense that Benard's wife Paula finally called the writers and "asked them to put the brakes on" because she could tell her husband was in difficulty, she later told Oprah Winfrey. Benard knew it, too—he told bp Magazine that he had an anxiety attack after a climactic scene that was so severe he thought he was having a breakdown of his own.

Bipolar Disease and Celebrity

Maurice Benard is but one of many celebrities with bipolar disorder who have spoken openly about the disorder, and used their own experience to help others. Strong enough is the association that researchers have been studying the link between creativity and bipolar disorder. While the disorder doesn't appear to correlate with any specific type of creativity, an increase in creative outlets commonly occurs duringhypomania periods.

Unfortunately, hypomania often has serious negative consequences as well before effective treatment begins. Thankfully Maurice Benard and others are spreading the news that treatment is not only possible but effective, and can help to control the disorder so that people can lead successful and meaningful lives.

If you're living with bipolar disorder, hearing about people like Maurice Benard is hopefully reassuring that you are not alone. In listening to what these spokespeople are saying, it appears that coping with the stigma is one of the more difficult aspects—on top of coping with the disease, you need to cope with how people judge you because of the disease. Here are some tips on explaining bipolar disorder to others, tips which can hopefully help each person with the disorder help to reduce the stigma.

Sources:

McCraw, S., Parker, G., Fletcher, K., and P. Friend. Self-reported creativity in bipolar disorder: prevalence, types and associated outcomes in mania versus hypomania. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2013. 151(3):831-6.

Taylor, K., Fletcher, I., and F. Lobban. Exploring the Links Between the Phenomenology of Creativity and Bipolar Disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2015. 174:658-64.

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