The five-time Grammy winner revealed she’d quietly struggled with bipolar disorder since her 2001 diagnosis
Mariah Carey struggled quietly for years.
The five-time Grammy winner revealed Tuesday that she had struggled with bipolar disorder since her 2001 diagnosis, when she was hospitalized for a public breakdown. Carey “lived in denial and isolation and constant fear someone would expose me,” she told People magazine, until she sought and received treatment recently. She now receives therapy and medication for her bipolar II disorder, the mag reported, which is marked by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomania.
“I’m just in a really good place right now, where I’m comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder. I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone,” Carey said. “It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”
The Queen of Christmas is among many stars choosing to speak candidly about mental illness recently: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson opened up this month about being “devastated and depressed” after witnessing his mother’s suicide attempt when he was 15. Reality star Kendall Jenner revealed that she has struggled with anxiety and panic attacks, while model Chrissy Teigen wrote about her postpartum depression in an essay for Glamour. Actress Glenn Close, who was diagnosed with depression in 2008, has dedicated her past few years to shining a light on mental health.
In this case, celebrities really are just like us: About one in six U.S. adults — or 44.7 million people — lived with mental illness in 2016, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Brava to her for coming out,” clinical psychologist Joan Cook, an associate professor at Yale University, told Moneyish of Carey’s revelation. “I think whenever people like that that we admire come out, it sort of normalizes it and validates it for us: If she can have it, it’s OK for us to have it, too.”
Media coverage plays its own role in reducing fear and shame around mental illness, added Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America — telling Moneyish that while such celebrity revelations inspire positive reactions now, they could seen as a career liability 20 years ago.
Patrick Corrigan, a distinguished professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, acknowledged that “famous people coming out surely lights up the discussion” — but said disclosures of mental illness from “the average person, the person you sit next to at work or in church or you go to family functions with,” can have far greater impact.
Coming out to the people in your life can provide “a real benefit” in creating a support network, Cook said. “You can finally get the social support that you need because you’re not secret about it anymore,” she said. “And you can finally get the help that you need,” whether it’s medication, therapy, support groups or other treatments.
“When you don’t share, you can often feel very alone in your process of recovery,” Nguyen said. “When you start to share, you meet a lot of other people who empathize and share about their own experiences as well — especially strangers, sometimes, who aren’t as close to you and don’t carry the other interpersonal conflicts that sometimes family has when you share.”
It can help to “have a community,” Nguyen added, or even just a single soul you can count on. “If you have a friend or someone you know who knows you well and can just check you when you’re going down that path, it’s sometimes easier to just have somebody else say, ‘That’s not you; that’s your depression brain,’” she said. “The more, the better, but even just one person is quite powerful.”
Of course, one barrier is stigma — a word Nguyen dislikes because it’s “too arbitrary” and “reinforces a negative feeling.” (“If we’re actually going to tackle stigma, then we have to talk about what it actually is, which is fear, shame and discrimination,” she said.) Sixty-eight percent of Americans don’t want someone with mental illness marrying into their family, according to research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, and 58% don’t want to work with people with mental illness.
Educating people on the genetic roots of mental illness doesn’t work to decrease stigma, said Corrigan. “What does work is interaction with people who’ve lived experience with mental illness,” he said, drawing a parallel to shifting attitudes around the gay community. “Mental illness is fundamentally a hidden stigma like being gay, and so when you come out, you humanize it far greater than any other kind of message,” he said.
Mental health professionals agree that disclosure is up to an individual. But if you decide it’s the right path, Corrigan said, proceed “cautiously” and “strategically” — starting with people in your extended family, faith community or workplace you believe are open-minded. To “test out” whether someone is a good person for disclosure, he added, try bringing up a positive representation of mental illness in news or pop culture — think Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook” — and gauge the sensitivity, or lack thereof, of the other person’s response. “Go home, think about it, and then if you think the person feels right, come back,” said Corrigan, who developed an “Honest, Open, Proud” program to help people with mental illness decide how to disclose.
Also consider how you want to tell your story. One way to reduce stigma, Corrigan said, is by sharing the “way down” story of your mental health challenges, balanced out by your “way up” story — showing that “despite everything you struggled with, you’ve recovered, you’ve achieved, you have aspirations like anyone else does.”
You may feel surprised and validated to learn how many others experience the same struggles, Cook said, or who have friends or family who do. “There’s no reason for people to suffer in silence,” she added. “I get why they do, but there is help that’s out there and available — and there’s no shame.”
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