Richard Dreyfuss Makes The Most of His Bipolar Disorder

Last Updated: 19 Jul 2019
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The colorful actor continues to relish the creative beauty in turning his manic depression to mastery and bad situations to good.


Richard Dreyfuss self-diagnosed as a manic-depressive at the young age of 14 and then made use of his colorful manic states throughout his life.

In this Menniger Mindscape podcast series the actor and ambassador for bipolar disorder explains that during high school he was able to sail through classes thanks to his vivid raconteur abilities alone, because doing any written work was unthinkable, due to extreme anxiety.

“I only did 12 nights of homework in 12 years of school … I could talk like crazy, but I could not write out my homework assignments.”

He recounts how his ramped up, manic waves actually “worked” for him because he was masterful at turning bad situations to his favor. Not surprisingly, his gift to dazzle led to finding his passion in theater and acting. Even from a young age, his self-assuredness that he would achieve great things was unshakable.

“…I was 100 percent certain of my success when I was 9 years old…I never entertained any doubt, but I knew as strong as that made me, it was not normal.”

Succeed he did. Dreyfuss has starred in blockbusters like Jaws, American Graffiti, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl (his Best Actor Oscar).

However, such extreme resilience came at a price and after years of self-medicating, Dreyfuss came to a critical point at the age of 19 when a depression wave hit. And when his profound anxiety and dread became untenable, he sought psychiatric therapy to better understand his ‘soul and inner life.’ He describes how his guilt lifted when he could grasp the inner workings of himself. “It was the structure, it wasn’t me, my soul, my Richard … it was the structure of my body.”

After finally arriving at the right protocol of medication, he has never strayed from taking them. He does wish others could see the ‘diamond in the soil’ of this illness, referring to his manic state as an “incandescent ecstasy of creation,” and crediting this element for many of his career achievements. At the same time, he’s able to point to his less-than-stellar performances while in the opposite depressed state.

While Dreyfuss hasn’t had the feelings of shame or the stigma associated with bipolar disorder, he understands the importance of viewing depression and anxiety as medical conditions, just like how some people have hypertension or diabetes and they go get help.

He likens pyschotherapy to a ride at Disneyland: “it’s good and bad and up and down,” and he encourages others to keep the faith – there will always be help even in the midst of darkness.

Read more about Richard Dreyfuss from the Summer 2016 issue in “Richard Dreyfuss—Brash, Bold & Proudly Bipolar.”

10 Comments
  1. Keep hope very alive.Try,try,try,body,mind and soul.Reach out as much as you can.Keep working at your prayer and meditation life,God is there!Always get help as much as possible.Read as much as possible.Write too.Enjoy yourself as much as you can.Talk about it.All the best,I care.We care.

  2. I have struggled for twenty five years and have finally found my right cocktail.it is like being born again into a world you never knew existed.thank you richard I have recently dealt with the depression side and your advice is profound.

  3. I too suffer from the highest highs and the debilitating lows of manic depression. I suffer much longer periods of severe depression than mania. I have tried suicide and lived with self hatred for a very long time. My family has deserted me and I’m alone and lonely. I don’t eat and now weigh under 70 lbs.. All I want to do is die….

  4. Amazing conversation and very relatable (of course without the awesome creative ability Richard has). I do have other skills I believe to be remarkable. Your publication is priceless; I share articles with people who are not ill to educate them. I am 56 and am still in a learning process and am currently suffering severely while seeking new doctors and going through other struggles. Listening to this podcast left me feeling hopeful. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for sharing. I, too, have bipolar disorder and use it to my advantage. It wasn’t until in my late 40s that they finally found the right mix of medications, after a lifetime of experimenting. I feel a calling to share my experiences and feelings to educate others regarding mental illness.

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