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.”
25 Reasons Why We’re So Obsessed With Mariah Carey’s Style
Mariah Carey attends the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards circa 1991 in New York City wearing a little black dress with rhinestone trim and long diamond earrings.
Mariah Carey attends the 19th Annual American Music Awards on January 27, 1992 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California wearing a sequin dress and shimmering tights.
Mariah Carey wears a black slit skirt paired with a black bandeau crop top out in New York City, a look she paired with simple strappy heels.
Mariah Carey was the queen of a good pair of jeans. Here, she sits in the recording studio in a worn pair of Levi’s and a button-up sweater.
Singer Mariah Carey attends the Fall 1994 Fashion Week: Calvin Klein Fashion Show on April 13, 1994 at Bryan Park in New York City in a classic ’90s “Clueless” look.
Singer Mariah Carey attends the 23rd Annual American Music Awards on January 29, 1996 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California wearing leather pants.
Singer Mariah Carey attends the “Seven Years in Tibet” Century City Premiere on October 6, 1997 at the Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza Cinemas in Century City, California.
Singer Mariah Carey attends Sean Combs’ Party to Celebrate the Grand Opening of Justin’s Bar & Restaurant on September 30, 1997 in New York City.
Mariah Carey lets her curly hair down and wears a shimmering gold dress for a night out at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in 1998.
Mariah Carey poses in a pink Chanel houndstooth two-piece with a small dog at a Chanel-hosted lunch at Lincoln Center in New York in 2000.
Karl Lagerfeld poses with Mariah Carey circa 2000. The singer wears a mesh little black dress and the two perfectly match, making us realize they’re actually quite similar.
Mariah Carey wears a sequin butterfly bustier to the ‘VH-1 Divas 2000: A Tribute To Diana Ross’ at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Mariah Carey wears a pink slip dress to receive her award at the The 6th Annual Blockbuster Awards in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.
Singer Mariah Carey poses for paparazzi photographers July 11, 2001 wearing a “Delicious” tank top as she leaves the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, London.
Mariah Carey wears a crochet bustier crop top and a maxi denim skirt to the The 17th Annual Soul Train Music Awards in Los Angeles.
Mariah Carey attends a party to promote her new single “Loverboy” and new album “Glitter” in London wearing a bandana top, denim separates, and a “Glitter” belt.
Mariah Carey poses in a denim mini skirt, “Glitter” tank top, and sunglasses while holding a pink boom box on tour promoting her new album.
Mariah Carey steps out in a pink Juicy Couture velour jumpsuit top, which she paired with jeans, sunglasses, and a rhinestone belt to sign autographs.
Mariah Carey arrives in London wearing a “Honey B. Fly” pink top, denim separates, a diamond chain necklace, and an “Automatic princess” diamond chain belt.
Mariah Carey attended her album launch and birthday party at Tantra in London, Great Britain wearing a fur-trimmed white shawl, a white maxi dress, and lots of jewels.
Mariah Carey steps out to walk her dog in New York City wearing high heels, a yellow bandage dress, and sunglasses. Is this her version of casual?
Singer Mariah Carey throws the ceremonial first pitch before Japanese professional baseball match between Yomiuri Giants and Rakuten Golden Eagles at Tokyo Dome on May 28, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan.
Singer Mariah Carey leaves MTV Studios July 22, 2008 in New York City wearing a rainbow mini skirt and diamond belt and a blue button-up shirt.
Mariah Carey didn’t even let a broken arm get in the way of her glamour. Here she is seen leaving the Ritz-Carlton on July 12, 2013 in New York City with a bedazzled sling.
Mariah Carey didn’t even let a broken arm get in the way of her glamour. Here she is at “The Butler” New York Premiere in a studded sling.
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.