I will always remember Billy Miller, an actor who recently died from suicide while struggling with bipolar depression. He was 43.
Miller was an actor, mostly known for his complicated character soap opera roles. Most notably, he played Billy Abbott on The Young & The Restless and then both Jason Morgan and Drew Cain on General Hospital. Miller won multiple awards for these roles. And while not the only actor in any of them, he left an indelible imprint of each of them, setting the bar high for others.
Billy Miller died on Friday, September 13, 2023 in Austin, Texas. The cause was death by suicide, according to his family. Miller lived with bipolar disorder and it is believed he was in a depressive episode at the time of his death.
As a person who also lives with bipolar disorder, my heart has a special ache for Billy Miller. Bipolar depression is absolutely hideous and incredibly lethal. Someone with bipolar has a 30 percent chance of attempting suicide over the course of their lives.
One popular and damaging misconception is that the bipolar depression is a reasonable tradeoff for the creative high. Not so, not at all. And the more we pedal that mythos, the most people are likely to not follow their treatment plan in pursuit of creativity. It is a very Catholic infused idea of guilt, suffering, and anguish. Suffering for our art is not fair to us.
My experiences with bipolar depression have been awful. It is like a thick heavy wet blanket that feels impossible to remove from your shoulders. Hopeless is three or four steps easier to manage.
Like many women, I was wrongly diagnosed with unipolar depression at age 22 and put on a series of anti-depressants. They sent me into spiral upwards that led to my first clearly defined bout of hypomania around age 25. I had no idea what was happening to me and even less of an idea that the misdiagnosis was in part to blame. It was about seven years until I was properly diagnosed by someone who specialized in mood disorders.
I also faced common barriers such as my family hiding their mh histories due to stigma, occasional lack of health insurance, and my mounting frustration that I *knew* something was amiss, but no one could figure it out.
Medication, including lithium, does a reasonable job of managing my symptoms and tapering off the edges of the highs/lows. The challenge for me is that I also have a severe anxiety diagnosis and a somewhat new complex trauma diagnoses, as well. Trauma and anxiety symptoms are awful, but I can see a path forward when I experience them. And with my therapist’s help, I can pull out the tangled web to examine each thread on its own.
Make no mistake – living with and managing severe mental health disorders is hard. It requires a lot of work, lots of support, and a world far more compassionate.
- Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year. (National Institute of Mental Health)
- The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years (National Institue of Mental Health), although the illness can start in early childhood or as late as the 40’s and 50’s.
- An equal number of men and women develop bipolar illness and it is found in all ages, races, ethnic groups and social classes.
- More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component. (National Institute of Mental Health)
I did not know until this week that Billy Miller also had a bipolar diagnosis. That explains why I vibed with him so much onscreen. There’s not actually a known bipolar vibe, but I find myself drawn to people who share my diagnosis quite often without knowing why. It almost a palpable secret language that connects us.
While I do consider myself a creator, I would in no way think my creativity should come at the price of my peace of mind. The world would shine brighter with Billy Miller, Carrie Fisher, Jimi Hendrix, Sinead O’Connor, Dolores O’Riordan, and Amy Winehouse still with us even if we didn’t have their existing artistic creations. They deserved a world that valued and cared for them. A world that provided tools to balance managing symptoms with expression and creation. A world that saw value in their peace on mind as much as their masterpieces.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mh symptoms, please reach out for support. You absolutely deserve it.
Rest in power, Billy Miller.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
The Trevor Project 1 (866) 488-7386
Dialing 988 will connect callers directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline