It seems like every day we hear of more celebrities who come forward to talk about their experiences with depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. In recent months alone, we've heard from singer Mariah Carey (bipolar disorder), basketball stars DeMar DeRosan and Kevin Love (depression and anxiety); Carson Daly (anxiety and panic attacks), and Rick Springfield (depression and suicidal ideation).
That's great, right? Because anything that helps lessen the stigma of mental illness is a good thing. Because if people see that the famous and successful among us can have depression or bipolar or schizophrenia, they are less likely to see these disorders as signs of weakness, laziness, or lack of character. Because when those of us who live with mental illness see that even the most famous and successful people struggle with these conditions, we feel better about ourselves . . .
But wait. Do we?
I don't know about you, but when I find out that a stunning movie star or the CEO of a huge corporation or a wildly overpaid athlete has depression or bipolar or anxiety, I feel worse. Why? Because these people have been able to reach the pinnacle of success in spite of having a mental illness. I, on the other hand, am hoping to make it to the grocery store before it closes so my daughter will have milk in her cereal tomorrow morning.
It just reinforces my image of myself as a total loser.
And there's more. I know that my heart is supposed to go out to the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world, who suffered massive post-partum depression, but I'm having trouble. After all, these people never have to go out to buy milk. They can afford to pay someone to do these menial, boring tasks. Not only that: they have a staff to research and find the best doctors and psychiatrists, the cushiest treatment facilities, and the most up-to-date medications and programs.
OK, OK, I admit, even for people with all of these advantages, depression (or bipolar disorder, or anxiety) can be terribly painful. In a way, mental illness is the great leveler, like cancer. Everyone can have it and everyone can suffer deeply. But at least those who are privileged (and in this regard I have to say I am one of the luckier ones) don't have their misery compounded because they can't afford good care, or because the closest clinic is 50 miles away, or because they live in a culture that (despite the admissions of all these celebrities) still regards these illnesses as shameful.
So what's the answer? I'm not sure. But maybe it starts with people like you and me, regular everyday people, coming forward to talk about how we cope (or don't cope) with these conditions. Maybe it starts with building communities, like this one. Or maybe it starts with the quiet strength of ordinary people who get through ordinary days, one at a time.
In the meantime, I'm just hoping to be able to finish this blog before it becomes completely irrelevant. Oh, and to get myself out of the house to buy some milk.
Roberta Eve Tovey