Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos) is legend on General Hospital and an icon in the daytime community, with three Daytime Emmy wins under his belt, but he's also a man who has proven himself to be a champion for millions living with bipolar disorder. He knows from firsthand experience the struggle that people living with the disease face in their battle for good mental health.
Recently, Benard spoke to People about his journey and one of the darkest aspects of his illness -- depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of bipolar disorder include extreme mood swings that can manifest in bouts of deep depression and periods of mania.
Two of the actor's GH co-stars had been diagnosed with the disease: Billy Miller (ex-Jason Morgan; ex-Drew Cain), who died by suicide on September 15, 2023, at the age of 43 and Tyler Christopher (ex-Nikolas Cassadine, who died from a cardiac event on October 31, 2023, just eleven days shy of his 51st birthday.
Benard, who turned 60 earlier this year, was just 22 years old when he was diagnosed with "manic depression." It was 1985, and little was known about the disorder, and even less was discussed because it was considered a taboo subject. Benard revealed that in the two weeks leading up to him being admitted for treatment, he'd been acting strange. Eventually, he turned violent with his mother, which was completely out of character for him. However, it prompted his mother to call the police on her son.
Benard explained that his mood had drastically shifted by the time the police arrived, and the police encountered someone who was "normal." Despite both of his parents being in tears because of the volatile encounter, the police left without taking action. Benard's parents were determined to get their son help, and the following morning, they took the actor to a county hospital.
According to Benard, he acted like Regan MacNeil, the little girl in the movie The Exorcist. He spit on his brother, his father, and the large male nurses at the facility. "It was just really scary in there," Benard recalled. He was strapped down to the bed by his wrists, waist, and ankles. "And all I wanted to do was escape the whole time I was there," he said. It took the doctors about a month or two to figure out exactly what was going on with Benard.
Shortly afterwards, Benard met his wife of 33 years, Paula Smith. The two married in 1990, but she saw early on the battle that her husband faced. Benard admitted that Smith never wavered in her love, support, and loyalty, not even when Benard threatened to kill her. Smith addressed this rocky period on Benard's podcast State of Mind. She explained that the man she saw in that moment hadn't been her husband. "He was sick," she said.
"It's no different than living with anyone with any other problem that they have," Smith pointed out. She acknowledged that it had been difficult, but she focused on doing whatever they had to do to manage it. "And when times are hard, then we dig deeper and figure out what we need to do," she concluded.
Over the past 40 years, Benard has had both ups and downs managing his disorder, but things got really difficult during the pandemic because he hit a low that had him contemplating ending his life. He confessed that he had thought about it every day. During the lockdown, Benard's parents were living with him and his wife, GH was shut down for four months, and his book tour for his autobiography, Nothing General About It: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me On and Off General Hospital, had been put on hold. He would tell people that he was fine, but the truth was far different because he'd been certain that it was the end of the world. "I felt a real cold rush in me," he said.
Benard recalled that at night, he would shake like a fish out of water and cry like a baby. "This had never happened in my life," he explained. He remembered telling his wife that he was done but also asking what was going on with him. Smith repeatedly assured him that he would be fine, but he remained stuck in a horrific panic that wouldn't leave him. That's when Benard started his podcast, talking to fellow actors about every aspect of mental health.
Benard credits the podcast with giving him an outlet, and the release helped him a lot, but something still felt off. When his book tour transitioned to one Zoom interview after another, he found himself talking to the likes of Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, and Charlemagne tha God. "And what I really wanted to say was, 'I'm gonna die. Can somebody please save me?'" he shared. The feeling stayed with him, and it got to the point where he would look at the tree in his front of his house and think about taking his own life.
Benard revealed that he was trying to figure things out because he had decided against a gun, since it would be "messy and ugly." He admitted that he thought about the tree every day, but he also did everything that he could to survive. He spent time with the menagerie of animals --including goats -- at his home in Los Angeles, and while it helped somewhat, the dark thoughts continued.
Benard confessed that one day, he ran into his house, begging God to help him because he couldn't do it anymore. That's when he had thought of his family and fans of his podcast. He feared that giving in to the urge would give everyone who watched his podcast the green light to do it, too. It was enough to stop him from ending his life.
Benard recalled being asked once why he thought he had bipolar disorder. "I always believed that God wanted me to suffer so I can prevent other people from suffering," the actor said. He admitted that it was key to him, and he opened up about the struggle he faced because he knew that other people were listening.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to 988lifeline.org.
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