Mariah Carey has opened up about her bipolar disorder diagnosis - why taking ownership of her story will help break the stigma of mental illness

Singer Mariah Carey attends the 2018 InStyle and Warner Bros. 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards after party
Singer Mariah Carey attends the 2018 InStyle and Warner Bros. 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards after party

Today is National Bipolar Awareness Day. It's important to know that over 70% of bipolar sufferers are misdiagnosed.

According to Shouqat Mugjenker, Mental Health Portfolio Manager at Pharma Dynamics, at least an estimated 2 million South Africans suffer from this mental illness, which is characterised by extreme and volatile changes in mood and behaviour.

Mugjenker adds that those who suffer from Bipolar Disorder often have days that are heavily influenced and disrupted by debilitating mood swings that are a far cry from the average mood swings many of us experience.

Because Bipolar can be initially misdiagnosed – sometimes it takes several years for a correct diagnosis – it can actually cause havoc on interpersonal relationships and often impairs a sufferer’s ability to make sound choices, particularly during manic episodes.

Shougat adds that many people struggle to process the bipolar diagnosis, but that it’s important that you know and understand that you have support structures, that bipolar can be treated and managed with medication and that the key to also helping yourself is through learning as much as you can about your condition.

I know this has been said so many times before – but we really have got to stop believing that living with any kind of mental health disorder is something you should be ashamed of.

Whenever there is any narrative that serves to create open dialogue, it’s often tempered by attitudes that are rooted in dismissal, especially by many who view depression as something that can simply be exercised away or be banished by thinking happy thoughts.  

Over the past few years, more and more celebrities have been coming forward to talk about their struggle with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders that they’ve been living with. From Demi Lovato – who has bravely opened up about her struggles with mental health, addiction and suicidal thoughts, to Chrissy Teigen who bared her soul about struggling with post-partum depression.

Our local celebrities have also been opening up too. Bonnie Mbuli, Nonhle Thema and Simphiwe Dana have all been upfront about how difficult it is living with and trying to overcome depression.   

READ MORE: What should you do when your partner is mentally ill and you’re not?

And now, adding to those phenomenally brave voices, is none other than Mariah Carey.

The Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter has recently, in an exclusive interview with People magazine, revealed that she’s been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2.

Remember that period in 2001 when she was hospitalised for that physical and emotional breakdown that many folk had a field day with? That was when she was first diagnosed.

She says that it took a long time for her to process it and that it was hard to reconcile with the diagnosis the first time. In the interview she also goes on to add that she spent so much time living in fear of being exposed and how it eventually became something that was too big to bear on her own.

Let’s stop there for a moment and take a look at the media’s portrayal of her over the years.

  • She’s garnered the reputation as being a diva (to be fair this has many different meanings, although the ones applicable to her have never been positive) and being difficult to deal with
  • She’s been seen as melodramatic, over the top, vain and hard to work with because of all of her unreasonable demands
  • She's been cast as unlikeable – not all of which may have been rooted in fact – so when she had what they dubbed as an epic meltdown, they had a field day with it, never imagining that there was more going on behind the scenes than they were willing to look.

No, in much the same fashion as Britney Spears – they simply saw another story about a 'hysterical woman' unable to function, brought to their knees due to a mess of their own making.

READ MORE:What Leslie Jones’s confession about loneliness teaches us about pretty privilege

And the amount of glee in the headlines only cemented this.

But difficult people are people and sometimes underneath the surface is a boatload of struggles they feel they can’t share with the public because of the fear of being ridiculed.

And Mariah was right to protect herself.

There is still a lot of confusion and misconceptions around bipolar disorder, and while it is wonderful to see more people being open about it, can you imagine how much more damage the media would have done to her if that had to be revealed back then? 

Of course, with celebrities being more open about mental health disorders, it’s good to see Mariah taking back the narrative that was stolen from her. 

WATCH: 11 Celebrities open up about depression

What Mariah – or Mimi to her fans – has done here, is not only opened up about her struggle with an illness that she, at first struggled to understand herself, but in doing so she’s helping countless of other folk who struggle with the illness to not feel alone in this.

She’s come full circle with a narrative that was meant to break her down, and has turned it around into a victory for her – and for those who have always felt ashamed of living with a mental health illness.

We completely applaud her!

Do you struggle with any mental health illnesses?

Worried about your anxiety, depression or think your erratic mood swings may be an indicator of something more serious?

The South African  Depression and Anxiety Group have a comprehensive list of contact details for counsellors, support groups and emergency helplines:

You can contact a counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday on: 011 234 4837 or 0800 20 50 26.

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