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It's Unfair to Assume Kendall Jenner's Privilege Shields Her From Mental Illness

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Kendall Jenner recently sat down to do a four-part mental health video series with Vogue magazine to discuss living with an anxiety disorder. It is a struggle she has been openly and publicly discussing since 2016. In the past, she has gone so far as to describe her symptoms as debilitating to the point where she has sometimes felt as if she was dying. She also addressed the backlash she imagines she will face for talking about her mental health struggles as someone who is privileged, pointing out that her lifestyle does not exempt her from bad days:

“There is going to be those people that say, ‘Oh, OK, what does she have to worry about? What does she have to be anxious about?’ I’ll never sit here and say that I’m not fortunate. I know I live a very privileged, amazing lifestyle — I’m a very blessed girl… 

I still have one of these, you know what I mean? And that thing up there sometimes doesn’t always… I don’t know, it’s not always happy, and it’s not always connecting, and I’m still a human being at the end of the day.”

Following the airing of the first segment, Kendall further remarked on Twitter, “I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks since I was a little girl. I wanted to dive deeper to better understand what I was feeling but more so, to share this information with others who may struggle too.”

Admittedly, I don’t understand what it’s like to be someone like Kendall Jenner, but I did consider myself privileged in many ways growing up. My family wasn’t extremely wealthy, but we were very comfortably middle class. As far as superficial things went, I wanted for nothing. Early on during the Cabbage Patch craze, for instance, my dad thought nothing of whipping out cash and offering a store owner $600 for a doll we saw in a window display on our way to see a David Copperfield show one night. As a young teenager, I thought nothing of getting a $100 pair of white Guess jeans, or discarding them after wearing them once, because I had gotten my period while wearing them and stained them. It wasn’t Kardashian/Jenner money by any means, but we were comfortable.

I was also privileged in other ways. I was the younger sister of one of the popular jocks at school. I had been cheerleading myself since I was 6, first through Pop Warner, then making the high school squad a year early in eighth grade because I was taking a few advanced classes. School was a breeze scholastic-wise. I never dealt with bullying the way many kids did — I was given a free pass in many ways simply for being my older brother’s kid sister. I wasn’t exactly popular in my eyes, but I wasn’t unpopular, either.

From the outside looking in, my adolescence was an easy, free ride in many ways. I grew up in a two parent household with both parents in comfy state jobs. We took two to four weeks of family vacations every year, seeing the Globetrotters, the Ice Capades and the Ringling Brothers circus every year when they came to town. My family owned our own home, had two vehicles that were exchanged for newer models every few years. From the outside looking in, my life must have looked golden to many people.

But what people didn’t see was everything that happened behind closed doors. The abuse I endured at the hands of my mother and brother. My father’s battle with a compulsive gambling addiction. My life was far from the perfect one many people assumed I had. I struggled with many issues nobody outside our home ever knew I faced.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even began talking openly about all the physical, mental and sexual abuse I had endured in my younger years. Everyone saw the superficial privilege and never realized that things were not so shiny and perfect beneath the surface. 

And that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the underlying genetic causation for much of my mental health struggles. I was born with a double genetic mutation that severely adversely affects my body’s ability to metabolize the chemicals my brain needs to adequately combat my own mental illnesses. It is a condition I was not aware of until a few years ago. Up until I was 40, all my doctors simply listed me as “treatment resistant” because no medication seemed to work for me. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my doctors discovered that my predisposition to mental illness was literally hardwired into my genes, having received a copy of the MTHFR gene from not one but both of my parents. 

More than once, I have had to defend my own diagnosis. I have been asked more than once what I could possibly even have to be depressed about. I once had a social worker aggressively verbally assault me, demanding to know why I felt my life was so hard and why I struggled so much to function. I first tried explaining from a clinical point of view, using the technical jargon my doctors had explained to me, but clinical explanations wouldn’t cease her incessant barrage of attacks. She pointed out again and again how so many of the other women she worked with had far worse lives than me, giving specific examples of traumas and the abject poverty they endured. I eventually broke down in tears, my emotional levy shattered, recounting every traumatic event I ever endured, trying to justify why I was so broken. She had incorrectly assumed that simply because at first glance I looked OK from the outside looking in and was seemingly privileged, that I must be fabricating or exaggerating my struggles. It has been years since that encounter and my eyes still well up with tears whenever I think about it. 

For some people to assume Kendall Jenner could not possibly be experiencing any mental health struggles simply because she has had a superficially privileged life is beyond ludicrous to me. It may not have been to the same extent as her life, but I know all too well that privilege is not a shield that protects from mental illness, abuse or trauma. Privilege does not stop mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. I have endured them both my entire life.

Stigma has many believing that mental health struggles are a personal flaw or shortcoming, instead of acknowledging that mental illnesses are bonafide medical conditions in need of treatment. There are people who, thanks to stigma, incorrectly assume that people need to just try harder to be happy, or learn to appreciate what they have, as if sheer effort or gratitude is a panacea for all of our ills. Stigma also pushes personal feelings of shame, as if admitting we have a mental illness will make us appear weak, ungrateful, pathetic or broken. 

Mental illness itself often also makes the very people who are struggling with their diagnosis feel like they are all alone in the world, that nobody else could possibly understand what they are going through. However, it is important to remember that mental illness lies and distorts reality. An estimated one in five people will be diagnosed with mental illness in their lifetime. Mental health diagnoses are actually very common. None of us are alone in this fight. 

The truth is that none of us knows fully what anyone else is going through in life. It doesn’t matter whether or not someone’s life appears to be privileged from the outside looking in. And being privileged, having an easy life is some ways, does not mean that life is not harder in others. Privilege is not a shield that protects from mental illnessMental illness does not care how much money you have, and while of course, statistics have shown that some demographics may be more likely to have a mental illness than others based on frequently commonly shared trauma, absolutely nobody is exempt. People need to stop assuming that just because someone may appear to be living a privileged life in many ways, that their life is always easy and that they never struggle with their mental health.

You can watch the full video below: 

Originally published: May 10, 2021
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