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What We Need to Remember When Celebrities Struggle With Mental Health

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As a young adult living with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I have experienced stigma very early on in my life. That is even before being formally diagnosed with the illness. Now that I have been stable and in recovery for more than half a decade, most people are surprised when they learn that I have struggled with my mental health. Each time, they are supportive and say they have enjoyed watching my TEDx talk. Or they express admiration for some of the community work I have done or for the awards I have received over the years. But truth to be told, things have not always been this way. And to be honest, I’ve come a long way.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

As I learned that anyone can struggle with their mental health, I saw that this is no different for those who truly live with fame. And I was upset to realize that celebrities, more often than not, seem not to be seen as deserving of the same respect I’ve gotten whenever I disclosed my past health issues. And that profoundly bothers me.

We have all these conversations in the media and awareness campaigns about mental
health and mental illness. About how it’s important to be supportive and caring about one another. Yet, whenever a celebrity is visibly struggling, either by posting strange Facebook rants or by their behavior that seems erratic, then all of a sudden, that support doesn’t seem to be there anymore. The empathy goes straight out the door. People start using words like “freak,” “psychopath,” “crazy” and so on. And even worse, that public personality becomes a circus beast for the world to see and for the pleasure of the press.

Let me tell you one thing. Mental health and mental illness do not always look pretty. It’s not always flowers and butterflies. People aren’t always in a place of recovery. It’s incredibly hard to get to that place of recovery. It’s hard to maintain as well because relapses can always occur. You can never take recovery for granted. And, it’s even harder to get to that point when you’re being turned out into ridicule in front of the entire planet when you’re at your lowest. When you’re at your most vulnerable.

It sincerely bothers me. And I find this incredibly hypocritical. A lot of people seem to be supportive of people with mental illnesses only if they are conforming to the norm and walking between the margins or are “recovered.” If they get back to a place of pain and struggle, we, as a society, are quick to judge. We are quick to walk away when this is precisely what mental health and mental illness are all about: a spectrum with highs and lows. Mental health and mental illness is not just an abstract concept. It is very real and has real faces, stories and people to it.

In my case, I personally wonder every single day who, among the people who know about my diagnosis, will truly be there for me the day that I fall back again? It’s easy to be supportive when everything is in order. When it’ll be a mess, who will stick around?

So next time you see anyone — famous or not — who has a behavior that puts you off, think twice. Remember that this could be your mother, father, sister, brother, friend or co-worker. Remember that it could be you. Even if you’re not a social worker, avoid using harmful words. Refrain from condemning that person. Tell this person that you’ve noticed some changes in their behavior lately and that you are genuinely worried about them. Tell them that you trust them to find the solutions that are best for them. Refer them to a professional and offer to go with them. The bottom line is, be kind. To anyone. You never know what battles someone is fighting behind closed doors. Don’t make their burden even worse. And that applies to any human being on this earth.

Originally published: August 7, 2016
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