Over the past two weeks, the public learned of three celebrities who are, or were, living with bipolar disorder, and rather than the media using this as the perfect time to educate people about mental illness, the cause of it, the symptoms of it, the available treatment options, many people fell back on stigma.
Many people questioned how Kate Spade could be so selfish as to take her life when she would be leaving behind a daughter, and I read a lot of misunderstanding about her “having everything.” These statements assume that Kate Spade was in her “right mind.”
Depression is not only the thief of joy it is a liar. Depression tells many people that their loved ones would be better off without them. Depression is more than just a feeling that a jog, trip to the spa, or a lunch with friends, can help someone overcome. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not weakness, just like schizophrenia, it is a brain disease.
I heard a report that Kate had been self-medicating with alcohol for some years and that she didn’t feel like she could get help because of the impact that attention would have on her brand. That is the stigma, and it costs us the lives of people. The tragedy that ended Kate’s life might have been different if we were more educated, accepting, and open about the realities of mental illness.
On the other end of this, is Kayne West admitting that at 39 he received the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and that bipolar disorder is his superpower. I don’t know the details of Kayne’s illness, but I do know what romanticizing mental illness is and what it sounds like and that is what Kayne is doing. Having received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in my twenties, the first thing I did was to read about all the “creative geniuses” who have and had it.
I thought that my creativity was a symptom of bipolar disorder. All these years later, and with a diagnosis of schizophrenia now, I don’t believe my creativity comes from my illness. I think I would have been far more successful in this life if I didn’t have to manage and deal with a brain disease – it impacts me every day, and it is disruptive and hinders me from my full potential.
Then there was Rosanne Barr and her racist tweet. I am sorry that Roseanne Barr has bipolar disorder, I am sorry for every single person, famous, or homeless (it doesn’t matter) who has to deal with the consequences of a brain disease, but Rosanne made mental illness look like a character flaw. Being bipolar doesn’t excuse racism, and it doesn’t create it either. Bipolar disorder can hinder impulse control, cause disordered thinking, cause delusions or strange beliefs, but a diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean you will be a racist – that has to do with character and personality and isn’t a symptom I have heard of regarding any mental illness.
I don’t know everything about mental illness, statistics and my experience are all I have to form conclusions. I do know that when mental illness is in the news this much that the media rarely helps us out with educational and stigma-busting information.