"I was stuck in this horrific panic that wouldn't leave."
General Hospital star Maurice Benard is opening up about living with bipolar disorder and a time that it had him so low, he considered taking his own life.
The actor, who has starred as Sonny Corinthos on the beloved sudser for the past 30 years, told PEOPLE that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — then referred to as manic depression — in 1985 at the age of 22. After incidents at home led his parents to call the police, Benard was taken to a mental institution and later diagnosed with the condition.
"It was just really scary in there," he recalled. "I was tied down from my wrist, my waist, and my ankles. And all I wanted to do was escape the whole time I was there. 'Get me outta here! Get me outta here! Get me out!' They didn't know what I had for about a month, maybe two months."
When the world went into lockdown at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Benard said he experienced a very dark period during which he contemplated suicide "every day."
At the time, the actor's parents were living with him and his wife, Paula Smith. General Hospital had been shuttered, and his tour to promote his memoir, Nothing General About It: How Love (and Lithium) Saved Me on and Off General Hospital, was suddenly off the table. To him, it was like "the end of the world."
"I felt a real cold rush in me," he said. "And then that night I was shaking like a fish out of water and crying like a baby. This had never happened in my life. Paula's on the bed and I'm like, 'Baby, I'm done. What's going on with me?'"
He continued, "In a calm voice, she says, 'Honey, you're fine. You're gonna be fine.' And I'm like, 'What the f--- what do you mean I'm gonna be fine?' I was stuck in this horrific panic that wouldn't leave."
Benard then started his own mental health podcast, State of Mind, which provided him some solace, but the strange feeling persisted. He recalled speaking with Dr. Oz and Charlamagne, tha God as part of his book tour, which was then moved onto Zoom, but internally wanting to tell them, "'I'm gonna die. Can somebody please save me?'"
At his lowest, Benard said he would gaze upon the tree in front of his house and contemplate suicide. "I was just figuring it out because I didn't want to use a gun because it's messy and ugly. That's what I thought about every day — the tree," he said. "And I just did everything that I possibly could to survive."
When spending time with loved ones and his pets would no longer help, he reached out to a higher power for support. "I ran to my house, and as I walked in, I said, 'God, you gotta help me now because I can't do it anymore,'" he said, adding that he ultimately decided not to go through with it because "I remember thinking of my family. And then I remember thinking, 'If I did [kill myself], then it would give everybody who watches State of Mind the green light to do it too.'"
Benard said he continues to speak out about living with bipolar disorder so that he can prevent others from suffering. "That's the key to me, opening up to you right now as deep as I can. Because I know other people are listening."
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 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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