Successful people have depression, too

Mariah Carey in Empire, Dwayne Johnson in Furious 6

Mariah Carey in Empire, Dwayne Johnson in Furious 6 (Photo credit: Fox, Universal Pictures)

For some reason, it’s assumed that successful people have no mental health problems. We tend to think that if someone’s doing well, they’re well in all areas of their life, like they have no problems. “How could they?” we think. “They’ve got their lives together!” But as Mariah Carey and Dwayne Johnson have shown, everyone has battles, and anyone can suffer from mental illness.

Johnson recently talked to the Sunday Express about his battle with depression.

“I reached a point where I didn’t want to do a thing or go anywhere,” he said. “I was crying constantly.”

Johnson’s battles came when his dream of becoming an NFL player ended after several injuries. He was let go from the Canadian Football League within the year of his signing on, and afterwards, his girlfriend broke up with him. “That was my absolute worst time,” he said. His mother also suffered from mental illness, nearly committing suicide in front of him when he was just 15.

He said both he and his mother–who attempted to commit suicide when Johnson was 15–have “both healed”. Johnson said if he hadn’t found inner strength, he could have easily become as suicidal as his mother once was.

“…[W]e’ve always got to do our best to pay attention when other people are in pain,” he said. “We have to help them through it and remind them they are not alone.”

More recently, he told the BBC he was “moved” by fans’ reactions to his story, calling the response “phenomenal.”

“It was really overwhelming and thousands of people responded,” he said, saying revealing his story started when he reached out to a fan who wrote about his own battle with depression.

“One of the most important things that I know helped me with the multiple times I had gone through my own episodes of depression, was making sure that I was talking to people,” he said.

“We as men have a tendency to hold all that in which is not healthy, it’s not good,” he said. “Depression doesn’t discriminate so if my past can help then I’m happy to share.”

Carey publicly revealed her bipolar disorder diagnosis April 11 exclusively to PEOPLE Magazine. She said she was diagnosed in 2001, but she didn’t want to believe her diagnosis was true.

She finally sought treatment after “the hardest couple of years I’ve been through.”

“Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” she said. “It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and recieved treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love–writing songs and making music.” Now, Carey is in therapy and taking medication for the disorder, “which involves periods of depression as well as hypomania (less severe than the mania associated with bipolar I disorder, but can still calls irritability, sleeplessness, and hyperactivity).”

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Carey said she came forward with her diagnosis because of the balance she’s now found in her life.

“I’m just in a really good place right now, where I’m comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder,” she said. “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.”

She’s also been relieved by the support she’s received from her admission, writing on social media, “I’ve been hard at work, feeling inspired by each of your stories and uplifted by your overwhelming support. Let’s continue to encourage each other on our journeys.”

Nowadays, people write a lot about representation of race, sexuality, and gender, but I feel like too often, the conversation leaves out people facing mental illnesses. One reason I think this is the case is because it shows how “representation” and “diversity” shouldn’t be thought of as blunt instruments that single each person out into their individual silos. To truly represent someone means to represent the totality of that person, not just the good or easily marketable parts. A person has a lot of stigmas and stereotypes coming at them, and one of the ones that are just as detrimental as racial and sexual stigma is mental health stigma. Yet, it’s often the one that slides under the radar.

Having stars such as Carey and Johnson out in the open with their mental health issues shows us that mental health isn’t just for those thought of as “crazy.” Mental health is something all of us should take seriously, since you don’t have to be diagnosed with a serious illness to become depressed. On the flip side, diagnoses of mental health issues should empower us, but instead, society treats it as something shameful. As Carey said in her interview, she was scared everything she had worked for would be taken from her if someone knew of her diagnosis. America’s societal preoccupation with “perfection” and “outward aesthetics” makes us afraid to accept ourselves, including our mental struggles. That has to end.

It should also be noted how Johnson and Carey are polar opposites in the realm of public opinion. Johnson is America’s most successful actor and because of his physical fitness, is seen as someone who has life all figured out. He’s lauded for he and his team’s ability to make lucrative deals and turn even the worst film into a studio success. Meanwhile Carey, once an ingenue with the music world wrapped around her finger, has been denigrated by people looking for a quick laugh. Ever since her 2001 breakdown on Total Request Live, she’s been seen as unstable, alcoholic, and the worst type of diva. It’s not really a surprise why Carey felt she couldn’t reveal her diagnosis; at the time, she might have been ridiculed even worse.

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But the differences between how the court of public opinion view Carey and Johnson underscore Johnson’s point: depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you’re up or down; if you are predisposed to being depressed, depression is a battle you’ll have to deal with. The public perceptions also underscore how a sexist society such as America’s can cause two people who are in the same amount of pain hide their struggles; because Johnson is a man, our society believes that he couldn’t have “weakness,” including mental “weakness.” Because Carey’s a woman, our society prescribes her as being a crazy, out-of-control diva, drawing from old stereotypes about women’s “hysteria.”

Overall, Johnson and Carey’s stories should show us that anyone can go toe-to-toe with mental illness. I know I certainly do. Their stories have inspired me and shown me that I’m not as alone as I sometimes think I am, and I believe their stories have inspired many people who have felt like they don’t have examples of highly successful people who have come out on the other side of their mental illness. I’d personally love if more stars came forward about their mental health battles, if they feel comfortable with it, of course. We inadvertently look towards celebrities for so many things, and the represent so much for us. If there were more examples of stars who were outwardly passionate about sharing their battles with mental illness, a lot of their fans would feel like finally, they have a roadmap for a life beyond constant turmoil of mental illness.♦

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