Jane Pauley Talks Bipolar Diagnosis, Ending Stigma

By Victoria Kim 10/25/19

“Words have power. The word ‘stigma’ is its own stigma. So every time you say ‘stigma,’ it is a reminder for people like me that I’m fighting two wars."

Jane Pauley
ID 78342647 © Laurence Agron | Dreamstime.com

Veteran broadcast journalist, Jane Pauley, is something of a household name, since debuting on the Today show as Barbara Walters’ replacement at the age of 25. Now 68, the CBS Sunday Morning host has continued her advocacy for mental health awareness, since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder nearly 20 years ago.

Pauley appeared on CBS This Morning to speak on the issue for the show’s “Stop the Stigma” segment.

“When I was 49, I was not bipolar. When I was 50, I was,” she said. “I was switched, flipped…”

"I Was In Pretty Deep Trouble"

Pauley described how a bout of hives led to her diagnosis. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001—a mood disorder that is characterized by dramatic mood swings.

She had no family history of the mood disorder “that I know of,” so her diagnosis came as a surprise, especially in middle age. “It unmasked what doctors described as a genetic vulnerability to a mood disorder, and by that time I was in pretty deep trouble,” she said.

A Cover Story From Her Doctor

Pauley’s doctor was so reluctant about sharing Pauley’s diagnosis with others that he offered her a cover story to hide her bipolar disorder.

“The only time in my life… that I experienced stigma was that day, day one, when I recognized that my doctor was giving me a cover story to tell my employers that I was being treated for a thyroid disorder, which was true, but I knew it was not the whole truth.”

Instead of hiding her truth, Pauley wrote down her experience in her book published soon after her diagnosis, Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue. (An excerpt can be read on NBC News.) Pauley said that her doctor “went pale” at her decision to write about it, but she went ahead and did it anyway.

Ending Stigma

“Words have power. The word ‘stigma’ is its own stigma,” she said on CBS This Morning. “So every time you say ‘stigma,’ it is a reminder for people like me that I’m fighting two wars. It’s not enough that I have a disorder that’s pretty serious, but I’m also fighting this front.”

She added, “My goal is that we fight stigma, which is real, but we fight it with sophistication. It’s a medical disorder.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr