Why Mariah Carey’s Mental Health Admission Matters
In an interview with People Magazine made public today, superstar Mariah Carey candidly discussed her reluctant acceptance of her Bipolar II Disorder diagnosis and the treatment that’s improving her life. It was a moment of profound intimacy from a diva whose persona gravitates toward the larger-than-life and also a great example of celebrity mental health advocacy.
For those unfamiliar with it, Bipolar II Disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by the experience of at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode, with such episodes tending to cycle (albeit with profoundly varying frequency both within and between individuals). A hypomanic episode is characterized by several consecutive days of a subset of the following symptoms: increased activity, decreased need for sleep, heightened irritability, racing thoughts, enhanced creativity, and risky behavior. (Hypomanic episodes are significantly less severe than manic episodes, the presence of which is required for a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.)
In her interview, she describes years of denial about her symptoms prior to seeking treatment. She describes explaining away her symptoms by saying she had a sleep disorder, was just a workaholic, and was really lonely. As a clinical psychologist, this is a pattern I see all the time. Bipolar Disorder is one of the most under-diagnosed and mis-diagnosed mental health problems. However, once diagnosed properly, it is highly responsive to medication treatment and psychotherapy, both of which Mariah states that she is currently engaged in and benefiting immensely from.
The admission may not come as a surprise to those who have criticized the occasionally erratic behavior she has displayed throughout her three decade career. And some may suspect that there is an element of self-promotion mixed in with the self-proclaimed advocacy. But I think that what she did was extremely brave, especially considering that Bipolar Disorder remains a highly stigmatized condition and she has a long history of unjustified ridicule and dismissal by the press despite her undeniable talent and astronomical success.
In the interview, she directly addresses the stigma that exists around mental health problems and its role in her reluctance to seek treatment for her issues. She says, “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. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.” This statement is an important reminder that even those that are affluent, powerful, and progressive are deeply affected by mental health stigma. Now imagine how this negative impact is amplified for the marginalized.
Mariah’s empowered admission and message of hope is in stark contrast to the tragedies of other high profile musicians in recent years. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse publicly denied that they had mental health problems prior to succumbing to the effects of the dangerous substances they became addicted to (which they presumably used at least in part to help manage their emotional and physical pain). And although ongoing mental health issues were not usually part of the public narrative surrounding Prince and Tom Petty’s lives or careers, their recent accidental overdoses suggest they were likely dealing some mental health issues of their own.
Celebrity endorsements may not be the most effective tool at our society’s disposal for combatting mental health stigma and increasing the utilization of quality care, but it is nevertheless a useful tool. For someone as well known as Mariah to boldly say that after years of denial, she has finally accepted her condition will likely serve as an inspiration to many to own their own struggles. And for her to state that psychotherapy and medication management have drastically improved her quality of life not only gives hope of improvement to the similarly afflicted, but it is also a rousing and all-too-rare endorsement of evidence-based treatment over trendy pseudoscience.
Mariah’s Best Songs about Mental Health to Stream: “Looking In” (1995); “Close My Eyes” (1997); “Petals” (1999); “Twister” (2001); “Fly Like a Bird” (2005); “Side Effects” (2008)
Read more about mental health and media: https://medium.com/@richardlebeau/not-your-typical-mom-87bf6b2d8829
Read more about bipolar disorder: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2018/04/11/mariah-carey-and-bipolar-disorder-what-and-how-treated/506346002/
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