I’m going to have a rant here. I’ve ranted on twitter too so if you follow me you might’ve already heard this, but I’m pissed off so it’s happening here too.
Mariah Carey disclosed publicly this week that she struggles with bipolar disorder – specifically bipolar II. There’s been a lot of publicity about it, and I actually feel really sad at the responses I’ve seen to her opening up about her mental health. The saddest thing is that I’ve seen many of these comments coming from mental health professionals. Not one person I’ve seen talking about this however, has met her even once, let alone been in a position to diagnose her. I’ve seen so many professionals questioning her either because bipolar II is a ‘questionable’ diagnosis (something genuinely quoted from a nurse) or that her symptoms haven’t been publicly reported. As a mental health nurse and a sufferer of bipolar disorder, I can’t explain how upsetting it is to see other mental health professionals, who are indirectly my colleagues, dismissing her diagnosis because they’ve not seen evidence that they consider sufficient.
It took me 10 years to get this diagnosis, which is actually the average length of time; she said she received her diagnosis in the early 2000’s after years of symptoms. Pharmaceutical treatment for bipolar disorder is often unpleasant and aggressive. You generally have a choice between medications: Lithium, which involves frequent blood tests, lifestyle changes and actually can increase the severity of the illness if discontinued. Mood stabilisers, which are usually used for epilepsy and are often contraindicated in women of child bearing age due to the likelihood of horrific congenital abnormalities. Or lastly, antipsychotics, which include side effects such as significant weight gain, abnormal heart functioning and permanent and irreversible spasms to the face and body. There are other treatments too such as combinations of various medications and electro-convulsive therapy.
This is not a diagnosis given out lightly and the treatment is not fun. Whilst I appreciate that the UK and the US diagnose differently due to our healthcare systems, I am truly disappointed by so many of our mental health professionals in the the wake of this story. We as professionals should always be grateful for people who raise awareness about mental illness – this is invaluable to us as a society and those we care for, especially with an illness like bipolar disorder which is frequently misrepresented in the media in many ways which I have covered before (constant mood swings, creative genius stereotype, life of the party etc). All I we have to go on in what we’ve heard and we have no right to diagnose by public opinion.
If I didn’t choose to disclose my struggles with my own mental health I’m not sure even the people closest to me would know I have bipolar at all. That doesn’t in any way make my illness less severe or any less valid. Whether I’m stable or not, every day my illness affects my life. I have to take medication every night. I am constantly wary of my sleep. I can’t relax. It is unprofessional, shameful and stigmatising for so many health professionals to pass judgement on a complete stranger, celebrity or not. We don’t know her life. We should applaud people speaking about mental illness, not give them trial by public opinion. Maybe if we lived in a society in which mental illness was okay to talk about, it wouldn’t have had to be a big reveal that so many of us then judge and dismiss.
Whether Mariah had bipolar disorder or not – and that is not for us to decide – she is talking about it and that alone helps people to feel better. We spend so much time talking about how important it is for people to talk about mental health and the importance of high profile role models; yet we are the first to shoot it down.
Mental health professionals: it starts with us. We need to be better.