Why You Should Respect Ariana Grande's Mental Health, Even If You Don't Like Her.
If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Regardless of your opinions on Ariana Grande as an artist and the questionable nature of some of her choices, one couldn’t read the comment thread on articles regarding her recent brain scan without being bombarded by hatred, support and criticism. The response ranged from the loving and understanding to the bigoted and irrational.
While many fans have been quick to voice their support, critics and even some followers have been just as quick to jump on the celebrity-shaming bandwagon. In an article from Insider.com, posted on April 12, one has to scroll through hundreds of comments just to find any that don’t denigrate, belittle or condemn the pop icon as a liar, attention seeker or artistic failure — all in response to disclosing her personal struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And while some commenters took the opportunity to invalidate the nature of her trauma with stark (and notably disparate) comparisons, others seized the opportunity to attack her intelligence and art, simultaneously trivializing her experience witnessing a mass shooting by comparing it to bad music. One user wrote, “I’m surprised the scan showed a brain,” with another commenting, “To be fair, her music gives many people trauma too.”
But the primary thread of criticism seemed to be one which attempted to correlate wealth, trauma and validity; paraphrased simply, it might read: “Shut up, you wealthy girl with unending resources and barely any real trauma. What about all the people out there who can’t see a therapist five hours a day?” There are unending problems with this line of thinking as far as healthcare and social conceptions of mental health and disability are concerned, but before diving into the major issues with the above line of thought, it is important to acknowledge in context that being privileged with wealth is, indeed, a huge asset and not to be disregarded. Those with increased financial resources are often able to mitigate symptoms much more quickly and easily, and in ways those who lack the same resources often cannot. However, this article strives to address the pastime of judging the validity of someone’s health issues in the court of public opinion, not of the disparity in access to healthcare in the United States (of which volumes could also be written).
All caveats aside, however, there is a need to address the various implications of assigning validity to trauma (and assigning validity to those voicing trauma), based on one’s own subjective biases about severity, rather than on a sound understanding of PTSD…
Problem One: The implication that resources negate the trauma of the economically or socially privileged.
Ariana Grande has a net worth of roughly $50 million. She is undeniably privileged — wealthy, white, able-bodied and famous. But money, as they say, does not buy happiness. And it does not allow one to un-experience traumatic events or restore chemical imbalances in the brain. As a chemical, neurological disorder, PTSD and other mental health challenges do not discriminate based on class or anything else; therapy and medication don’t “solve” mental illness, they mitigate it at best. One can have all the resources in the world and still experience mental health challenges; that doesn’t make them any less painful or any less legitimate.
Problem Two: The implication that an individual’s experience of a traumatic event can be understood and judged by disinterested parties based on their perception of the “severity” of that trauma.
It doesn’t matter what causes an individual’s PTSD, whether or not an experience was “bad enough to warrant it” or whether an individual “actually experienced a legitimate trauma.” PTSD is real chemically, neurologically and emotionally, and that trauma is, therefore, a valid reality for that individual. In the case of Ariana Grande, she may have been escorted away from a mass shooting – physically unharmed, to her limo, not having witnessed a single injury firsthand. But she still has a stress disorder that resulted from trauma. So, when one is told, “stop complaining, just think of all those people who had it worse than you,” what they’re really hearing is: “only some trauma is valid enough to cause pain, and yours isn’t.” As soon as we invalidate one person’s trauma by comparing it to the trauma of others, we reinforce the notion that coming forward about mental health is a risk because it means one will need to defend an experience at the further expense of stigma and judgment.
Problem Three: The implication that only those with trauma or mental health issues deemed valid should be able to share those mental health traumas publicly. And further, that the person choosing to share is somehow taking away from the conversation about others.
Acknowledging one person’s pain does not negate the pain of others; empathy isn’t like money – it is not a limited resource. We can have empathy for a privileged celebrity impacted by PTSD and still have empathy for a homeless veteran. To that end, when someone whose fame rides on an image of poise and strength unveils a battle with mental health to millions, it ought not be dismissed (regardless of presumed intentions or legitimacy), but rather acknowledged as a means of reducing stigma – making it safer and easier for others to do the same. It says, “I, someone you admire and respect, experience this too. And I’m here to share and talk about it.” This inevitably starts a conversation about mental health that can serve to reduce stigma against those struggling, help them to understand they aren’t alone and lead them to seek out resources they may not have otherwise.
Mental health is a nondiscriminating issue and should be treated as such for the benefit of all. You may not find Ariana Grande personally likable, politically correct or a choice role model, and her mental health nor passive advocacy discredit that opinion. But at the end of the day, she made public a conversation about mental health by addressing her own with honesty and vulnerability. Particularly in a society in which youth suicide attempts have doubled in the past decade, the normalization of constructive dialogue surrounding mental health — even if that just means shedding light on an issue by sharing a personal experience — is a vital means of establishing a culture of safety in which individuals are embraced when and if they choose to speak up or seek out resources.
So, in addition to the obvious steps we can take (such as not responding to an article about mental health with a laughing emoji or a comment bashing a person’s intelligence or body), we must call out and resist projecting subjective narratives onto the legitimacy of another person’s experience, further stigmatizing a hot-topic issue. But more than anything, we must listen and engage. The more we do, the less we fear, the greater we combat a silent crisis in solidarity.
Photo via Ariana Grande Facebook Page