Mariah Carey has dubbed her own nicknames throughout her career ("The Elusive Chanteuse", "Mimi", "Bianca", etc.). The internet, however, refers to her as "Diva". After both her 2016 New Year's Eve performance and following a "redemption" gig last December 31, the Twittersphere decidedly blamed her missteps, lip-synching, and flustered reactions to particularly "diva" behavior, erupting in a traditional internet roast so fierce you could feel the heat from your screen. But even prior to both these events, the singer has become an easy target for relentless mockery, so much that Gen Z can probably better identify her as a meme or a GIF than a five-time Grammy-winning powerhouse.
But today, the internet eased up on Mariah Carey. In an interview with People editor in chief Jess Cagle, we learned that Carey has publicly announced she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001 in a cover story with the magazine, shedding light on the behavior that turned into social media fodder. "For a long time I thought I had a severe sleep disorder," she explains. "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. 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."
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As soon as the news hit the airwaves, the force that usually "drags" Carey ceased its pull—Twitter users commended Carey for coming public with her diagnosis, saying things like, "Mariah Carey did something tremendously courageous today. She chose to use her powerful voice in a very different way. She spoke her truth regarding #bipolardisorder to a general public that isn't always empathetic to ppl [sic] w/ #mentalillness. #Inspiration," as well as, "Omg! My childhood idol just revealed she's bipolar 2! way to stop the stigma! We need to stop being ashamed of mental illness! People need to stop having to suffer in silence! Thank you #MariahCarey#bipolar#stopthestigma#bipolar1." But peppered within these praises were headlines and groupings of 280 characters stating that Mariah Carey "confessed" to having bipolar disorder II, which is highly problematic.
Given her massive platform, Carey rightfully deserves to be lauded for sharing her story—a deeply personal, sensitive subject—with the world. But pegging this announcement to a "confession" continues the stigma of mental health disorders, as though it were an admission to being guilty of a crime. As stressful as it is to be diagnosed with, well, anything, feeling as though you need to hide it increases the pressure tenfold.
I'll never forget my social work professor explaining to the class that taking medication for a mental disorder is the same as taking Aspirin for a bad back—just because one relates to the mind doesn't make it shameful. After all, the "problem" is just located in a different area of the body and is an incredibly common genetic and environmentally triggered condition, so any shame associated with it is groundless. Carey says it best: "I'm hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me."