I’ve come out three times in my life. First as gay, second as depressed, and third as a ride-or-die Kelly Clarkson stan. Strangely, it’s only the last that has caused permanent strife in my family. I expected that; the truth is hard to hear.
On Wednesday, skinny legend Mariah Carey announced that she has been dealing with a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. In an interview with People, Carey described that, while she was first diagnosed in 2001, it was only in the last few years that she fully accepted and grappled with treatment.
“Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” she said to People editor-in-chief Jess Cagle. “It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”
It’s easy to drown this announcement in platitudes and inspirational sayings. It’s easy to say that Mariah is brave. It’s easy to say that this is important. It’s easy to bury this in well-wishes and forget how desperately important this is.
So it needs to be stated regardless: this is fucking important. This is fucking brave. And this is life-saving.
I was fifteen when I started going to therapy. I was nineteen when I went on medication. I remember the first time I went to CVS and picked up my prescription. I carried it back to my apartment, the small paper bag crunched up into my sweaty fist furtively. I eyed the small blue ovals with displeasure, and resented every swallow, every day, until one day I didn’t.
I am, relatively, extremely lucky. I live in a bubble where my mental health does not limit or define me. I have friends who have their own struggles, and I have parents who have advocated for me. It’s easy for me to forget the magnitude of disclosing mental health now that it has become so normalized for me.
But I let myself forget sometimes that I started writing about my depression and anxiety because when I needed it most, there was no literature that I found helpful. There were dry, clinical descriptions, and there were void-swallowing depressing missives. There weren’t people that I could relate to, people who were “normal” and functioned.
And in 2001, I can’t imagine the hostile environment that Mariah was facing when she received her diagnosis. It would have probably been career-ending to come forward, as a woman and as someone with bipolar disorder. She would’ve been labeled disruptive or crazy or entirely unreliable. She would’ve been a national joke.
It’s only the last few years – if that – that I’ve noticed a shift in the conversation surrounding mental health.
If I had had someone like Mariah – or Demi Lovato or Kesha or Dwayne Johnson – when I was fifteen or seventeen or nineteen, I think that I would progressed out of that shame a lot more quickly. I probably wouldn’t have been so reticent to accept help. I didn’t know that you could be successful and also depressed; I didn’t know that this didn’t have to be a life sentence or a limitation.
Despite the strides we’ve made, disclosing mental health issues is still a major risk. There’s a stigma attached to it, stigma that could eliminate job opportunities or personal relationships or credibility. That stigma is reduced when people disclose their own struggles, and represent as people who are functioning, productive and driven. It also opens the conversation to the ways that mental health can contribute to people’s downfalls, when people aren’t functioning or productive or driven. It can open the conversation about the ways that we are failing people who struggle with mental health.
Because there are people like Mariah, who had wealth and time and resources to understand and cope with her diagnosis. There are people like me who have a supportive family and a network of people.
But there are so many people without those resources, without the access to therapy or medication, for whom mental health can be detrimental. This helps them.
“I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating,” Mariah told People. “It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”