May 1, 2013

Get your bipolar disorder treated the Catherine Zeta-Jones way: For $50,000 out of pocket

Tip of the hat to Catherine Zeta-Jones for two recent decisions: (1) Seeking live-in treatment for her bipolar disorder and (2) announcing said treatment to the media.

For any ethical celebrity reporter (and we do exist), a star’s mental illness falls under the category of private-until-you-say-otherwise. That principle, of course, includes bipolar II, the Official Bipolar of Zeta-Jones. Even in 2013, mental disorders still come with stigmas. You’d best believe that the actress’s disclosure will help chip away at those prejudices. For that contribution, I admire her.

As for the hidden details of Zeta-Jones’s treatment--well, I have to admit: As soon as I heard her announcement, the cynic in me raised her wizened head. Anybody who’s been in the entertainment reporting business for a minute knows that, 90 percent of the time, a “facility” is code for drug or alcohol rehab. 

I smelled a scandal. Turns out, there is one involved in this story. Kinda. But I was looking in the wrong place.
According to clinical and consulting psychiatrist Dr. David Reiss, facilities dedicated to live-in mental illness treatment do exist. There are several of them out there. And they are not just fronts for rehab clinics. It's very likely that Zeta-Jones is staying in one of these dedicated hospitals, he told me.

“These are pure psychiatric facilities,” Reiss ensures me. “They have comprehensive programs including talk therapy several times a week, group therapy. It may also include a much more slow and careful use of medication, sometimes cleaning patients out if they’ve been taking the wrong medications.

“There should also be a re-evaluation of daily stresses and the home environment. Doctors help structure a patient’s life, help them make plans to stay out of trouble, maybe look at issues that trigger acute episodes.”

When Reiss told me this, I brightened. You mean, I said, the medical community is finally creating facilities where people with bipolar disorder can get the help they really need...instead of the few of nights in a hospital they usually get?

Not exactly, he said. And here’s where the scandal comes in. Sort of.

“Generally these facilities are out of the insurance system,” Reiss tells me. “The cost for a stay is about $50,000 a month, and if you don’t have it, you’re out of luck. 

“Unfortunately, most people with bipolar, they get--I don’t even call it treatment. They get put into emergency stabilization programs. After 5 to 7 days, the insurers say they’re stabilized, and they go home.”

Current research suggests that 4 percent of the population experience some symptoms of bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. Too bad it’s only the 1 percent--such as Zeta-Jones--who can get such serious, in-depth care.

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