A week after Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, famously chipper celebrity, opened up at length about his lifelong depression, Mariah Carey is now also speaking candidly—and to many, unexpectedly, given her apparently ultraconfident diva reputation—about her own struggles with mental health. Her public platform came via a cover story for People; on Wednesday morning, Carey Instagrammed the magazine's new cover, which is dominated by a photo of her and the words "My Battle With Bipolar Disorder," and captioned it saying she was "grateful to be sharing this part of my journey with you."
It was already public knowledge that Carey was hospitalized for a physical and mental breakdown in 2001, which at the time was said to be for severe exhaustion. In People's teaser of the story on its website, though, Carey explains that that was in fact the year she first received her diagnosis.
Even then, Carey said, "I didn't want to believe it," so it took "the hardest couple of years I’ve been through"—it's unclear when, though People references her E! reality show, suggesting it was as recently as 2016—to seek further treatment, which now consists of therapy along with medication. (Though bipolar II is similar to bipolar I, according to the DSM-5 the “highs” are typically less severe, as they lead to periods of hypomania instead of mania. As with bipolar I, though, the “lows” typically manifest as episodes of depression and its accompanying symptoms of low energy, a sense of guilt and worthlessness, and difficulties with sleeping.)
"For a long time I thought I had a severe sleep disorder. But it wasn’t normal insomnia and I wasn’t lying awake counting sheep. I was working and working and working.... I was irritable and in constant fear of letting people down," Carey said, describing her symptoms. "It turns out that I was experiencing a form of mania. Eventually I would just hit a wall. I guess my depressive episodes were characterized by having very low energy. I would feel so lonely and sad—even guilty that I wasn’t doing what I needed to be doing for my career."
Those feelings of guilt and worthlessness often lead to a reluctance to pursue treatment; as Carey put it, "Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me." She only "sought and received treatment" when it got to the point of being "too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore." Treatment has included finding the right medication, which for Carey has been without side effects of "making [her] feel too tired or sluggish," as well as "put[ting] positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love—writing songs and making music."
Carey is currently back in the studio, at work on an album due later this year. More importantly, though, she's "just in a really good place right now, where I’m comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder." As for why she decided to open about her mental health and how "finding the proper balance is what is most important" when taking medication and seeking treatment: "I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone," she said. "It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me."
It may seem incongruous, and even inappropriate, that the story appears aside cover lines like "Brad Pitt Dating a Professor?" But that also serves to drive home Carey's point: that struggles with mental health are everyday, and in fact quite common. (In the U.S., one in five adults experience mental illness each year.) Part of removing the stigma, though, is also clearing up what exactly mental illness looks like, which the comments section on Carey and the writer's Instagrams ("everyone is bi-polar lol I’m just sayin!" is just one such example) show has a long way to go. First up, though, is starting the discourse, which Carey has definitely done her part in doing.