Mariah Carey has spoken out about being diagnosed with Bipolar II

Mariah Carey has spoken out about being diagnosed with Bipolar II

Known for her impressive vocal talents, her show-stopping outfit choices and her reputed diva demands, it's probably fair to say that no one has ever thought of singer Mariah Carey as the shy and reserved type. So when the pop sensation revealed in a recent interview with People magazine that not only has she been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but has been living with the condition for the past 17 years, fans were surprised. But maybe they shouldn't have been. After all, it's estimated that one in five adults will experience some form of mental health issue in any given year, so why not a superstar?

In the interview Mariah explained why she had waited so long to speak out about her diagnosis: “I didn’t want to carry around the stigma of a lifelong disease that would define me and potentially end my career. … I was so terrified of losing everything”, she said. As sad as this seems, it's completely understandable. In a 2016 survey by Time to Change, a collaborative campaign between various mental health charities to end the stigma around such issues, an astonishing 50 per cent of people said they think people with mental health problems are unpredictable, and one in 10 said they feel that those that experience mental illness are less trustworthy than those without. So, it’s time to put the record right and shine some clarity on what it actually means to live with bipolar.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can cause a person’s moods to swing from one extreme to the other. As a result, it can impact that person’s energy levels and ability to think clearly, as well as play havoc with their relationships and working life. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness puts it: “People with bipolar experience high and low moods - known as mania and depression - which differ from the typical ups-and-downs most people experience.”

So let’s narrow it down - how are Type I and Type II different?

Individuals with Type I bipolar will generally have experienced at least one episode of mania which has lasted longer than a week. Mania can be described as periods of great excitement and overactivity, and often comes with euphoria and delusions; symptoms may include talking rapidly, jumping between topics, losing inhibitions and even becoming aggressive. Type II, on the other hand, is characterised by individuals having experienced one severe episode of depression, although they will often also have displayed symptoms of hypomania, a more mild form of mania.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Doctors aren’t yet sure of the exact cause of bipolar disorder, but there do appear to be a few things that may contribute to an individual’s likelihood of developing the condition. Firstly, there’s physical factors including an imbalance of chemicals in the brain such as noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine; having a family member with bipolar disorder also seems to make you more susceptible to the condition. Environmental factors are also thought to play a part, with stressful situations such as the death of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship sometimes acting as triggers. More likely than anything, it's a combination of some or any of these factors. 

Who does bipolar disorder affect?

There’s no “type” of person that bipolar affects; according to the National Institute for Mental Health, almost three per cent of the adults in the US have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It typically first manifests between the ages of 15-25, and it's unusual for someone in their 40s or older to be newly diagnosed with the condition. Men and women are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder, with people from all backgrounds being affected. And Mariah isn't the only famous person to live with it either - singer Demi Lovato, actress Catherine Zeta Jones and comedian Russell Brand have all been diagnosed with the condition, among others. 

Can bipolar disorder be cured?

Although there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, it can be well managed, enabling individuals to live as normal a life as possible. This is usually achieved through a mix of medication, regular therapy, and lifestyle modifications, such as ensuring regular exercise and making the time for good sleep. In the People interview, Carey commented on her own experience of receiving treatment, saying: “I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music."

Where else can I get support?

Your doctor should always be your first port of call if you think you may be suffering from a mental health condition. Charities such as NAMI are also great sources of information, and more people than ever are now turning to social media for support and to share their stories - the #bipolar hashtag now has over 1.3 million entries on Instagram alone. Jenn Marshall, otherwise known as @bipolarmomlife, is a writer and wellness speaker who is leading the way, frequently posting about her own experience of bipolar Type I. She set up the This Is My Brave, a project to enable individuals to tell their stories in creative ways: “we provide a sense of community and hope; and encourage others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us shares our story, there’s another crack helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness."

Fortunately, Mariah to be doing well now, telling People that: "I'm just in a really good place right now, where I'm comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder. I'm hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone." Fans too have been overwhelmingly supportive of the singer and her decision to talk openly about her diagnosis, taking to social media to praise her bravery. So let's hope that with celebrities of this magnitude willing to speak out and put their faces to mental health conditions, we can continue to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.