I sat sunken in a cushioned chair, eyes fixed upon of my favorite childhood stars, from hit sitcom ‘In the House’, saddened by the story Maia Campbell decided to share with the world on documentary show Life After. Maia Campbell was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder during her teens, and she explained so precisely the ‘feelings’ a person with a bi-polar disorder experiences. The illness of being bi-polar can be defined as a mental illness classified by psychiatry as a mood disorder. Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.
Campbell even explained it in her own words that those who live with the disorder, search for this ‘level plain’ of emotions. She explained how the disorder took her moods to high and low places. My heart was filled with heavy gratitude for this subject, as well as her story, because she was actually apart of something that media is usually foreign to displaying. Being the oldest daughter of a woman who dealt with mental illnesses, its ups and downs, I appreciated her story so much – it almost burned a hole through my soul to get these words out on paper.
First and foremost, mental illnesses are not going anywhere. That’s the first thing I want African American people, especially those living under poverty-stricken circumstances. The cold dark world of stigma has somehow covered the communities that mental illnesses thrive in the most, with this disgusting non-compassionate reeking film of stagnation. ‘Stigma’ may be defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Daily we place erasable marks on our race, our communities, and neighbors, by making light of ‘side effects’ from mental illnesses – calling them the simple yet ignorant term ‘crazy’. Mental Illnesses are become more and more frequent, and many agencies across our country have fallen short of funds to provide safe housing, rehabilitation, and even medical care to those who are diagnosed with these unfortunate disorders.
Why be negligent with compassion for people who may end up on your street, outside of their normal realm of ‘peace’? Why even invite the opportunity for people to ‘hide’ their mental illnesses, but making fun of the side effects of disorders every single chance you get?
I watched my mother change before my eyes, ‘almost as if it were some staged act of irregularity’, morphing into everything but my mother during her outbursts – before she was hospitalized, carried away to be ‘fixed’ – some in my family would say. I sat beside her on cold bus rides, to and from therapists and doctors’ appointments, hopeful that a regimen and therapy plan could be reached – that would in result, keep my mother at home.
I sat home counting calendar days, listening to music, drawing her pictures, and writing her stories, hopeful for her discharge date. I hated mental hospitals. I knew that it wasn’t a place that a kid like me should have even experienced visiting. I was emotionally drained from visiting her in the stale eggshell colored asylums, trying to locate any amount of regularity in her ‘drugged up’ speech and slouched composure. I needed my mother to be my mother.
I needed that to heal my pain. Maia Campbell did something that deserves to be honored. A young sitcom star, who appeared to be the ‘perfect black teen girl that all girls wanted to mock’, stood up, worked towards the ultimate goal of regaining her life. Maia Campbell snatched her life back from the grips of mental disorders, and she hasn’t looked back.
Campbell’s story on Life After showed viewers that everyone who fights with mental illnesses will not allow the actual illnesses to win – even with the outside pressure of ‘Hollywood’ talk, in Campbell’s situation. My mother has also been living proof of this silent victory. Even today, she still struggles with some situations in everyday living, but every day she goes forward with living. She also wins. So many will never see this type of victory, due to “stigma”, an ugly opinion or neighbors, drenched in shame and humility.
Maia Campbell has managed to overcome the entire stigma, in not just the community, but in Hollywood as well. None of us were blind to how the media drug her personal issues through the mud for a while, and even WSHH videos of her encounters for more ignorant induced laughter. She deserves to be honored, for her resilience. She deserves to be honored because the media barely focuses on the positives in mental illness stories. Stigma is a deadly invisible blunt force, which weakens communities with every single blow it attacks us with. It’s almost like us ‘upper cutting ourselves’. Entertainment media is commonly displaying our favorite celebs and stars, with mental illnesses and drug addictions, in a manner that ignites stigma in our neighborhoods.
While reporters and writers sit in fluffy, police protected, white picket fenced in communities – using their stories to display our community issues in whatever light that will obtain readers – we have to think smarter. We can’t allow the ‘out of mind acts’ of those who live with mental illnesses to humor us, in any fashion. The next time your favorite celebrity appears in the news, linked to some inhumane act or some display of ‘unusual mental behavior’, do your community a favor and be serious about what you are seeing. Gain knowledge on mental illnesses by visiting sites national organizations like NAMI owns (Nami.org). Get involved. With the way the world is changing, and how tangible our minds really are to the poisons of media, trauma, and tragedy – you and I are not exempt from ‘onset’ of mental disorders. Let’s push forward, instead of allowing our own stigma to knock us two steps back. One.