Mariah Carey this week revealed that she has lived with bipolar disorder for 17 years for fear of being “exposed”. As one of the most Googled health conditions and with 4 million sufferers in the UK, here’s why we all need to get clued up, and open up, about bipolar, whether we’re sufferers or not
We’ve made incredible headway, literally and metaphorically, in terms of shattering stigma around mental health conditions: from anxiety to OCD , we’re talking, fundraising and educating ourselves to a greater degree than ever before on topics relating to mental wellbeing. Then, every fortnight or so, a story hits the headlines that makes us realise that damaging taboos still linger, and that we need to do more to safeguard both our own mental health, and that of future generations.
Last week came the news from The Prince’s Trust that young people’s emotional health in Britain is at crisis point, with happiness and confidence levels of those aged 16-25 plummeting to the lowest ratings since records began in 2009. 27 per cent of young people admit that they experience feelings of hopelessness on a regular basis, with 47 per cent reporting that they have suffered from a mental health problem. The upside of these bleak stats is that young people are bringing their mental health issues out into the open, but the fact that mental health conditions top the lists of health conditions that we’re too embarrassed to talk about, above gynaecological concerns or STIs , proves that we urgently need to make progress.
Mariah admits that it took “hitting a wall” to seek help
A study of 61 million UK Google searches for health conditions by online GP video appointment service PushDoctor.co.uk in 2015 reported bipolar disorder as the number one “shameful” health issue that we wouldn’t discuss with a medical professional, or indeed anyone else, with depression coming in at number two. It seems that this stigma is yet to diminish, given that Mariah Carey brought to light yesterday that she has been suffering with bipolar disorder for almost a decade, yet has only recently sought treatment for the condition.
In an interview with People magazine, the 40 year old singer explained that she was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001, after being hospitalised following a nervous breakdown. Commenting on why she didn’t get help for her condition initially, Carey explained her reticence:
“I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me.”
At first she put the manic depressive episodes (known as hypomania) and acute periods of depression that characterise the bipolar type II that she suffers from down to a “ severe sleep disorder ”:
"I was irritable and in constant fear of letting people down. 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.”
She eventually made the decision to start therapy and a course of medication to treat her bipolar disorder when “it was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore.” The fact that global megastars feel those oh so familiar and intense feelings of guilt, fear, shame and loneliness, alongside the misery of a mental health issue going untreated, is confirmation that we need to raise awareness of the different forms in which mental health problems can manifest.
Poor mental health is as grave a risk to our future health as sun exposure, smoking and alcohol intake
One in 100 people in the UK suffer from bipolar disorder, either type I, typified by manic highs and depressive lows that last for long periods of time, or type II, which is associated with shorter periods of hypomania and briefer episodes of severe depression. Young people are most at risk of being screened positive for bipolar disorder according to The Mental Health Foundation , underlining that we need to start conversations about mental health at a younger age, as is currently being promoted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry with their Heads Together programme. Bupa Health Clinics highlights that poor mental health is as grave a risk to our future health as sun exposure, smoking and alcohol intake, with those in their twenties most vulnerable according to GP Dr Luke Powles:
“It’s so important for this group to begin looking after their mental health. Sadly, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-34 so it’s vital to be aware of your mental wellbeing. If you feel anxiety or stress affecting you, seek help and ask your GP in the first instance if you’re unsure where to turn. Getting the right help and support can ensure you’re well-armed with ways to manage your mental health for the decades to come.”
PushDoctor.co.uk highlighted that 40 per cent of 1013 UK adults who have looked up symptoms of a mental health issue online would not go on to seek support, make a follow-up appointment or discuss their worries with others, which is especially concerning given Dr Google’s tendency to leap to conclusions, heighten fears and provide conflicting information (I do realise the irony of the fact that I’m writing this online, but never make the Internet your only port of call). Nothing replaces the comfort and context of a face to face conversation, expertise of a medical professional and knowledge that your have a real-life support system to call on. Mariah admits that it took “hitting a wall” to seek help, and now she’s surrounded with “positive people” and a plan to manage her condition. You’re not letting others down, you’re helping to lift us all out of the fug of silence and stigma that endures around mental health.