Behind bipolar disorder: Why Amanda Bynes' story is no joke

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Amanda Bynes Crashes at L.A. Shopping Mall

By DR. KAREN LATIMER (AOL Health Expert)

Amanda Bynes, the adorable little girl from "All That" and "The Amanda Show" is now, at only 28 years old, homeless.

On Thursday, several media outlets released a picture of this clearly troubled young woman sleeping on a couch at a mall in Los Angeles. This, I suppose, is newsworthy to many. To me, this is tragic.

Bynes, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was recently released from a psychiatric facility. Despite the best efforts of her parents and friends to continue her treatment, she has been seen wandering the streets looking for a place to stay and tweeting accusations, largely thought to be untrue, about those who love her most. Many media outlets are covering the story, and the dark side of human nature makes us take an unkind interest when the mighty fall. Who after all in our society, is mightier than those who achieve fame?

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Behind bipolar disorder: Why Amanda Bynes' story is no joke
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Amanda Bynes attends NYLON Magazine's IT Girl Party at Gilded Lily on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYLON)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen doing her make-up outside in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen doing her make-up outside in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: Amanda Bynes is seen at LAX on October 10, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen doing her make-up outside in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen doing her make-up outside in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen doing her make-up outside in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Actress Amanda Bynes is seen with friends in Soho on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: Amanda Bynes attends NYLON Magazine's IT Girl Party at Gilded Lily on October 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYLON)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Actress Amanda Bynes attends an appearance at Manhattan Criminal Court on July 9, 2013 in New York City. Bynes is facing charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana in relation to her arrest on May 23, 2013. (Photo by Raymond Hall/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 06: In this handout image provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, actress Amanda Bynes is seen in a police booking photo April 6, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. Bynes was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. (Photo by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office via WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 24: Actress Amanda Bynes departs Manhattan Central Booking after being arrested on May 23 2013 for alleged charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 24, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Amanda Bynes as seen on July 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by NCP/Star Max/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Amanda Bynes sighted on July 9, 2013 in Midtown, New York City. Bynes earlier appeared at Manhattan Criminal Court to face charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana in relation to her arrest on May 23, 2013. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Actress Amanda Bynes attends an appearance at Manhattan Criminal Court on July 9, 2013 in New York City. Bynes is facing charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana in relation to her arrest on May 23, 2013. (Photo by Raymond Hall/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Actress Amanda Bynes enters Manhattan Criminal Court on July 9, 2013 in New York City. Bynes is facing charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana in relation to her arrest on May 23, 2013. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Amanda Bynes arrives for an appearance at Manhattan Criminal Court on July 9, 2013 in New York City. Bynes is facing charges of reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and criminal possession of marijuana in relation to her arrest on May 23, 2013. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 14: Amanda Bynes leaves the Neil George Salon on May 14, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by OutOfSightMedia/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 05: Amanda Bynes attends the 2011 MTV Movie Awards on June 5, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 03: Actress Amanda Bynes arrives at the Tao Nightclub at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino during the club's four-year anniversary party October 3, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Actress Amanda Bynes arrives at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards at Gibson Amphitheatre on June 5, 2011 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
Amanda Bynes and Frankie Muniz at the 11th Annual Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation's 'A Time For Heroes' carnival and picnic at Ken Robert's estate in Mandeville Canyon, Los Angeles, Ca.
Actress Amanda Bynes, right, smiles after receiving the Favorite Television Actress award from singer Mandy Moore, left, during Nickelodeon's 15th annual Kids' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., Saturday, April 20, 2002. (AP Photo/Lucy Nicholson)
Kelly Preston, left, Amanda Bynes and Oliver James pose at the premiere of 'What A Girl Wants' in Hollywood, Calif., on Thursday, March 27, 2003. (AP Photo/Chris Polk)
Actress Amanda Bynes is joined by her co-star Oliver James, as she blows out candles on a birthday cake bearing an American flag and British Union Jack, at the party following the New York premiere of her movie "What A Girl Wants," to benefit The Rainforest Alliance, Wednesday night April 2, 2003. Bynes turns 17 Thursday April 3. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 14: Actress Amanda Bynes poses in the press room at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk on August 14, 2005 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Amanda Bynes during What A Girl Wants Cast Members Appear At Planet Hollywood at Planet Hollywood in New York, New York, United States. (Photo by Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic)
Amanda Bynes during 5th Annual Lullabies and Luxuries Luncheon and Fashion Show Benefitting Caring For Children and Families With AIDS at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 14: Actors Shawn Wayans, Amanda Bynes and Marlon Wayans present an award onstage at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards held at Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk on August 14, 2005 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Actress Amanda Bynes co-hosts MTV's "Total Request Live" show at the MTV Times Square Studios, Thursday, March 16, 2006 in New York. Bynes is the star of the film "She's the Man" which opens March 17 nationwide. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
Actress Amanda Bynes holds her trophy during a taping for MTV's "Total Request Live Awards" show at the MTV Times Square Studios, Tuesday, Feb.21, 2006 in New York City. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
MIAMI - FEBRUARY 06: Vanessa Minnillo and Amanda Bynes attend The Maxim Party 2010 at The Raleigh on February 6, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images for Maxim)
MIAMI - FEBRUARY 06: Actress Amanda Bynes attends The Maxim Party 2010 at The Raleigh on February 6, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images for Maxim)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 17: Amanda Bynes attends the Ann Taylor Fall 2009 'See Now, Wear Now' Runway Show at the New York Public Library - Celeste Bartos Forum on September 17, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/WireImage for Shadow PR)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Actress Amanda Bynes attends the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on September 13, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Actress Amanda Bynes at Bryant Park on September 13, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Actor Amanda Bynes poses for a picture at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on September 13, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 13: Actress Amanda Bynes (L) poses with designer Max Azria at the Herve Leger Spring 2010 Fashion Show at the Promenade at Bryant Park on September 13, 2009 in in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Herve Leger)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 10: Lyn Collins, actress Amanda Bynes, actress Joanna Garcia and singer Solange Knowles attend the BCBG Max Azria Spring 2010 Fashion Show at the Tent during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Bryant Park on September 10, 2009 in New York, New York. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for BCBG Max Azria)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12: Actress Hilary Duff and Actress Amanda Bynes are seen around Bryant Park on September 12, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by John Parra/WireImage)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12: Amanda Bynes and Kelly Rutherford attend the QVC Style Live celebration during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2010 at Bryant Park on September 12, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - AUGUST 09: Actress Amanda Bynes arrives at the Teen Choice Awards 2009 held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on August 9, 2009 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
June 6, 2009 Brentwood, Ca.; Amanda Bynes; 8th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball; Held at a Private Residence (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic)
CENTURY CITY, CA - MAY 08: Actresses Angie Harmon and Amanda Bynes attend the 16th Annual Race To Erase MS cocktail reception co-chaired by Nancy Davis and Tommy Hilfiger at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on May 8, 2009 in Century City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)
CENTURY CITY, CA - MAY 08: Actress Amanda Bynes attends the 16th Annual Race To Erase MS cocktail reception co-chaired by Nancy Davis and Tommy Hilfiger at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on May 8, 2009 in Century City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)
CENTURY CITY, CA - MAY 08: Actress Amanda Bynes arrives at the 16th Annual Race to Erase MS event co-chaired by Nancy Davis and Tommy Hilfiger at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on May 8, 2009 in Century City, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Amanda Bynes as seen on July 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by NCP/Star Max/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: Amanda Bynes is seen in Chelsea on July 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Alo Ceballos/FilmMagic)
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I implore you, rather than look at this as yet another Hollywood sideshow fueled by the misfortune of others, take it as an opportunity to get informed about bipolar disorder. Mental illness is very real, its treatment is often extremely difficult and we are almost all at risk.

I often hear people throwing around the term "Bipolar" as if it were a personality trait like funny, mean or serious. It is a disease, and it needs to be respected as a disease. Imagine a celebrity, like Amanda Bynes, who has breast cancer. Now imagine, she is unwittingly caught on camera in an unflattering picture with a bald head exposed. Almost everyone with a conscious would find the publication of the photo distasteful.

Why is mental illness viewed so differently than diseases affecting other organ systems?

When my children see someone who looks or acts differently, I explain the condition to them in the simplest of terms. When someone's heart is sick, his or her brain works fine. It helps the person manage her illness, seek treatment and take her medicine. When someone's brain is sick, the sickness itself often prevents her from acknowledging her disease and taking the appropriate steps to control it. The brain gets sick just like the liver, the kidneys or the heart. The world is just much less sympathetic to a sick brain.

If mental illness were more widely understood, a photo of Amanda Bynes sleeping on a couch would be no more entertaining than a picture of an actor with asthma having an attack.

What you should know about bipolar disorder:

1. Bipolar is NOT another way to describe someone who is simply emotional. It is a psychiatric disorder characterized by extremes of moods. Patients go through periods of intense happiness with increased energy and other periods of depression and fatigue. In between, people with bipolar disorder can feel normal.

2. Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. Symptoms of the manic phase are feelings of extreme hopefulness, excited speech, impulsivity and high sex drive. Symptoms of the depressive phase are irritability, sadness, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, fatigue and changes in appetite.

3. Men and women are equally likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Women spend more time in the depressive phase and often cycle through the extremes more quickly. The first episode in men tends to be a manic episode. The first episode in women is usually a depressive episode.

4. The average age of diagnosis is in the early 20s.

5. People with a first degree relative with bipolar disorder or other psychiatric disorders are at greater risk of having bipolar, but a direct genetic link has not been found.

Bipolar disorder affects about 2 million people in the U.S. To learn more, please visit this site. If you suspect psychiatric illness in yourself or a loved one, seek help immediately. If you were having chest pain, you would not wait. Illnesses of the mind are no less serious and they are, despite the tone expressed in the photos circulating, no laughing matter.
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