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Mariah Carey Opened Up About Racism, Sexual Abuse & Her Bipolar Disease

Mariah Carey has a huge personality and a career that’s even bigger, so it’s not surprising the spotlight seems to follow the iconic singer. It’s a symbiotic relationship she shares with the media — they keep her in the headlines, and she delivers with divalike antics. And although Carey has certainly given the press plenty to write about over the years, her recent interview with The Guardian is creating more buzz than most.

More: Mariah Carey Talks About Living With Bipolar Disorder — but What Is It?

Sure, it could be due to the fact that Carey confessed she sometimes bathes in cold milk. But, more important, the fascination stems at least in part from the singer’s newfound willingness to discuss her bipolar disorder.

When asked whether she believed that her bipolar disorder diagnosis could be traced back to anything, Carey told The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone that, if anything, she would say it’s rooted in her past trauma, including an identity crisis growing up.

“It was a combination of being biracial and experiencing the darker side of life. My mom experienced a lot of racism as an opera singer because she was married to a black man,” Carey explained, recounting one instance when a friend saw Carey’s father for the first time. “She burst into tears because she had never seen a black person. I just remember how that impacted on me.”

Carey also touched on her lack of self-esteem, which she attributes to the self-perceived feelings of worthlessness that came with being biracial, poor and in a household where her sister, Allison, was a sex worker — the latter of which Carey indirectly connects to some of her mental health issues by saying those experiences turned her into “a very guarded person.”

Of course, Carey’s comments foster an important dialogue. How is bipolar disorder defined, and can environmental factors really contribute? To find out, we turned to Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and costar of Sex Box.

More: 9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Bipolar Disorder

Defined, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes a person’s moods to shift from manic highs to depressive lows. However, the ongoing conversation about the condition is complex.

“Mental illness is very difficult for the lay population to understand — and there are even disputes among professional about etiology, which means ‘root cause,’” Walfish told us. “At this point, in 2018, it is believed that bipolar is nature versus nurture, meaning the person is born with a tendency, a propensity, a gene… whatever the trait is — they’re born with it.”

In other words, it is widely accepted that whether a person will have bipolar disorder or not all boils down to their biochemical predisposition.

Walfish is careful to point out, though, that what Carey said isn’t without truth. “All of the things she listed don’t help. They just exacerbate the problem,” she said, elaborating, “Each person has a different level of sturdiness in their ego and, given different stressors in life, the bipolar disorder may be triggered.”

More: Mariah Carey Received a New Award, but Not for Her Singing

So while Carey was likely born with a biochemical genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder, the stressors she mentioned in the interview — racism, identity struggles, poverty — could very well have served as catalysts for manic episodes.

“Going above a person’s manageable level of anxiety can trigger a lot of things, so it’s key for the individual to learn what is their limit,” Walfish shared.

“Rather than saying no one’s perfect, I’d rather say we are all flawed. And the key to good mental health, I believe, is knowing where our flaws are, accepting them, treating them — meaning if you need medicine, take it — and accepting ourselves, flaws and all.” 

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