K. Michelle, best known for fighting most of her cast mates on Vh1’s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta told Joi-Marie McKenzie of ABC News Radio Online  that this may be her last season on the show, but not her last season on reality TV. She alluded to possibly joining the New York cast of the popular reality franchise. Perhaps to also fight with everyone there, considering how wild cast members like Erica Mena, Raqi Thunda and Rashidah Ali can get.

But I can’t think about K. Michelle (or most reality show cast members) without thinking about how often the word “bipolar” is thrown around on these shows in relation to people like K. Michelle or Renee Graziano on Vh1’s “Mob Wives” or Kenya Moore on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” There’s no official diagnosis and definitely no real understanding of the disease. It’s simply become a lazy way to call fellow histrionic cast mates “crazy.” (Also, the world “bipolar” has the distinction of beginning with the letter “b,” causing for some punchy, crass alliteration with the word “bitch,” which is also thrown around a lot on these shows.)

But I honestly wish they would go back to saying crazy, since saying Renee, Kenya and K. Michelle are “Bipolar” do nothing for the real stigma people who live with this – at times – life threatening illness. It’s a serious diagnosis, not a joke. But you wouldn’t know it from reality TV.

As some may already know from reading my blogs on blacksnob.com and on BP Magazine’s Bipolar Blog, I live with Bipolar Disorder, Type II. For me, at times it has been life threatening as when you’re happy, you’re ecstatic, but when you’re depressed you’re near catatonic and my depression was devastating. Even right now I’m going through a bought of mild depression that has impacted my writing and productivity, but I’m managing through the support of my family, exercise, taking care of myself, therapy and medication.

The extreme behaviors of reality show participants (and the personality types these show attract) often have little to do with mental illness, yet cast members are quick to turn into amateur psychiatrists and diagnose their “out-of-control” peers, often ignoring the fact that the very nature of a reality show is to push people into emotionally intense situations to get the most extreme responses possible out of them.

Marriages often suffer on reality shows because in real life we don’t have cameras filming every moment, magnifying the flaws and fights that happen from time-to-time. But reality TV needs drama to get ratings, so pushing cast members into emotional frenzies are par for the course. Some need less pushing than others, but I can’t help to think of how Chrissy Lampkin, during the season two recap of Love & Hip Hop, refused to sit with Mona Scott-Young, the show’s producer. Lampkin was still upset that she was forced/tricked into being near a cast member she was feuding with 24 hours after she’d just gotten engaged. She went from being happy and touched to trying to Hulk Smash her fiancé’s former manager, Yandy Smith after explicitly telling Scott-Young she did not want to be placed in the same room as her.

These shows make me thing of how often, since high school, have we had to be around someone we didn’t like on a regular basis? Where they were unavoidable because you’re in a class together or assigned to the same home room? As adults if we don’t like someone we can easily stop seeing them, stop being around them and avoid them and they can do the same for us. But to call Kenya Moore “bipolar” when the show, by design, wants her to act this way, is wrong. She’s only doing what is demanded these days of people who come on these shows – be dramatic, be emotional, be fiery, be entertaining, be bitchy, because if you decide to “be boring” you will be off the show and out of a check.

So are these women “bipolar” or are they just high-strung people in high-strung situations, still hanging out in a televised high school by virtue of a nice payday and the business opportunities that come from being on a “hit” reality TV show?

Bipolar isn’t just another word for crazy, just like diabetes isn’t another word for “fat.” Because diabetes, as a disease, is much more complicated than the kind you get from being obese. There are different types of diabetes and they affect people in different ways. But no one goes around slinging the word “diabetic” as slang for overweight and out-of-shape because that seems ridiculous. It should also seem ridiculous to use something as complicated to diagnose as Bipolar Disorder as a catch-all for any and every bit of outrageous behavior. You can have Bipolar and be an introvert. You could have it and be an extrovert. You could lash out at others or you could be the type who only self-inflicts their pain. You could be living with the disease and perfectly functional. Or you could be at the whim of its cycles, riding those dangerous waves of mania and depression.

But it shouldn’t be the hip, new way to say “crazy,”  and I wish the women of reality TV understood that.

Some of us are trying to live out here.

  • Marisa

    Not for nothing but K.Michelle is one of very few on reality tv that actually has a talent she can SANG I have been to her concert before. Also those words are always thrown around not just on reality tv but in the real world to. Ask ourselves how many times a week have we uttered the words psycho, nutbag or crazy to describe somebody not just a tv thing. Also we have to understand that when it comes to reality tv a lot of these people are assigned their “roles” so to speak. We all know who gets the most attention are the ones that do and say the most out of bounds things.

    The trend has been to dump the ones who behave as their deemed boring over the wild ones because they get people talking. RHOA dumped Deshawn for being boring, BBW dumped Jen,Royce and Kesha but kept the worst out the bunch Evelyn,Tami and Suzi. I will say that lady on Mob Wives Love I do think she has a mental illness because she wanted to fight the other lady Carla over the most ridiculous reasons. Every time she spoke about Carla was ripping her face off, biting off her fingers, tossing her down stairs, breaking her bones and bloodying her, then she attacked the Carla lady under the guise of wanting to talk to her. I believe that Love was a liability on Mob Wives in a way the others weren’t more violent than Tami and Chrissy even. Love broke her hand because she got mad and punched a metal pole I believe that’s why they dropped her from the show. Love is somebody better served getting some psych help than being on tv.

  • cosmicsistren

    Very well written article. As always your words leap out of the page and truly impact the reader.

  • ….

    Thank you!!!! Which is why Kenya Moore was right when she said that Phaedra was making a mockery of the mental health community.& then when Kenya said that Phaedra tries to act all confused like she didn’t see why Kenya would say that.

  • http://audaciousace.blogspot.com audaciousace

    YES. I was so repulsed by Phaedra’s open an continuous uses of mental health slurs. Calling Kenya bipolar, saying she needs to be on medication, and even saying that she is crazy, is unacceptable and reflects the larger issue that mental health issues are meant to be shameful and hidden instead of being addressed and respected as any other health issues would be. I found it particularly damaging considering the lack of education and understanding of mental health issues in the black community. Same thing with her calling Kenya an alcoholic. Addiction is a real and serious disease, not some joke or insult. I’m disappointed that Bravo did not make a big point to address this issue.

  • Marisa

    Phaedra Parks screamed FAKE from the minute she showed up lets not forget the woman was faking her due date as to deflect the fact she was pregnant by Apollo before marriage. Also Phaedra went on and on about Kenya not respecting marriage vows, like honey you don’t mention how your husband was literally drooling over Kenya on that Anguilla trip. A lot of these reality show chicks the ones that fight have that I’m still on my block in the hood mentality as well. Like the Married to Medicine wives fighting as if they were still in their old environments, same thing with Tami, Evelyn, Chrissy and K.Michelle. Camera be dammed they gonna show out no matter what, they need to realize its time to leave those hood fighting ways behind.

  • http://wheelerresearch.wordpress.com wheelerresearch

    Phaedra didn’t have to scream FAKE. When we watch these shows we SHOULD willingly suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the programming as a reality show. When it goes off and when we are discussing mental illness we must restore said disbelief. These shows are entertaining but there is nothing real about them.

  • donnadara

    As far as RHOA, I think the producers are pushing the whole Kenya is crazy issue. Remember when Walter kept asking Kenya if she’d taken her pills? I believe that show is semi-scripted and all it takes is for the producers to suggest bipolar or mental illness to get cast members to run with it.

  • http://www.ajeannine.blogspot.com Adrana

    I really appreciate this article as both my mother and sister suffer from Bi-Polar syndrome and my sister is currently losing the battle against the disease. It’s a very serious illness and should not be tossed around blindly by the uneducated. Many people suffer from this disease unknowingly and do not/will not seek help because they think it’s normal since “everyone” acts this way. Great article!

  • Cocochanel31

    The women on these shows are all aspring actors or in Kenya’s case – are trained actors so that is exactly what they are doing – acting , albeit horribly.

  • http://www.dawnthescreenwriter.com ScriptTease

    I’m sure with her joining the New York cast is a move brought on by Mona herself, to beef up the ignorance. The Atlanta chapter has more than their fair share of it going on, so they can afford to lose one.

  • Shar

    Take everything you see with a grain of salt. I used to transcribe reality t.v. shows for a production company. A good portion of it all is scripted.

  • Lola L.

    Jesus christ..we get it..you’re bipolar..but jeesh…talk about beating a dead horse…

  • camille

    I see the throwing around of poorly understood diagnoses as a reflection of something that actually does occur in day to day life. People have been referring to others who they don’t understand or care to understand as having “multiple personalities,” being “schizo,” or just plain crazy for a very long time. All of the half-assed info about mental illness has just made such assaults seem more informed or savvy on the surface because the jargon is slightly more accurate. It speaks to a larger problem of general insensitivity and misunderstanding of mental illness

  • The Moon in the Sky

    How does ignorance get ‘beefed up’, and what are they ignorant about in the first place?

  • gloria

    Wow…rude much?

  • Starla

    I honestly think the modern society is preoccupied with labeling people and I feel that many people in the modern society want to be labelled with something.

    You meet people now and the first thing they want to talk about them self is their label. They don’t even have a clue who they are anymore, they have become the label. Bipolar disorder like any other disorder has its antidote. But many people are fearful of a cure, because if they were to be cured who would they now be?

  • http://gravatar.com/sealinewuman sealinewumanwuman

    Wow, spoken like someone who’s never had to live through a manic, hypomanic or depressive episode. Trust me sweetheart, if I had the insurance or the money to afford it, I’d be medicated right the fuq now. But since I can’t drop over a grand every thirty days, I grin and bear it and regiment my life and days in ridiculous ways and pray something doesn’t tip me over. No one who knows they’re bipolar and can afford the medication sneezes at it, they may come off of it occasionally because they feel better, but always wind up back on it. The ones who don’t or don’t know they’re bipolar, tend to kill themselves eventually or try real hard. But thanks for the empathy and understanding, it means a lot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerstin.kristiansen Kerstin Linnea Kristiansen

    Goodness, I hit thumbs down when I meant thumbs way UP!!

  • BlackNortherner

    Thanks for writing this article.

    Everything you are saying is so true. Peoples misconceptions about mental illness, along with misconceptions about social anxiety, introversion, and how these things occur in the Black community is out of control. Some don’t believe that some of these things exist at all in the community (example social anxiety and Black men) and as you point out in this case, some throw terms around like they are going outta style (labeling every crazy reality show star as bipolar).

    Its good when someone can clear up the non-sense. I hope many people read this article and will be emailing it to friends.

  • Starla

    @ sealine…I have been sick and I am well, and at all times I am that I am. Neither in my sickness nor my health am I ever anything other than I am.

    Trust me sweetheart, you don’t need over a grand monthly to get healing. But it is not my place to offer suggestions to anybody where health and medicine is concerned. All the best on your journey for health.

  • Pingback: The Stigma of Mental Illness | With The Lights On

  • http://gravatar.com/cocovabarbie KemaVA

    I dont know if you can call out their use of the word bipolar and then use the word histrionic. This is also a personality disorder.

  • http://www.GilrsBestFriendandCoblog.com Girls Best Friend and Co

    Starla great answer! I am so glad you get it. These diagnosis are ways to make pharmaceutical companies richer. Bipolar! Cut it out, I hate to tell you miss but many woman suffer from the blues. Especially black woman. You are in control of your thoughts, change your mind and change your life. Often times when woman are experiencing these emotional roller coasters it is their hormones. It so sad how they are convinced that taking medication will help the problem. It just hide the symptom and create other side effects. What you need my dear is cognitive therapy. Someone to talk you through the highs and lows. Try to discover what triggers the lows. But cognitive therapy is far more expensive than taking a pill and less profitable to mental health professionals. I am married to a mental health professional. On this subject we disagree. To the author, you are a woman, as woman we have many things that effect our mood and temperament. I suggest you research the reasoning behind psychiatric diagnosis. It amounts to money. I know this because my therapist explained it to me. Yes, Miss you are right about the label, its how our ego’s work. We have to have a story to tell ourselves. To the author since you are a writer, I challenge you to change your story. You would be surprised the power of the mind and intention.

  • http://www.GilrsBestFriendandCoblog.com Girls Best Friend and Co

    Personality disorder, LOL. I think you should explain further what you mean by personalty disorder. LOL more rhetoric created by mental health professionals to obtain a check.

  • Lou

    Sorry this is late, but I really love your post and I wanted to support you 100% in what you wrote, people should not have their illness mocked and stereotyped. Can I just also add, unfortunately a lot of media outlets are not as sensitive to issues as you appear to be. You mention diabetes in your article as a condition people would not lazily associated with obesity. Well as a type 1 diabetic (auto-immune no way to prevent or cure it), I’ve lost track of the amount of people who ask me if i was fat, because I don’t look diabetic. I feel that, along with mental illness, we have one of those funny “diseases” that people believe they have every right to mock and stereotype. I don’t think people with cancer, or illnesses that are deemed more “serious”, or maybe less “self-inflicted” have to deal with. Diabetes is almost used as a by-word for obese now, in the Adam Sandler film that’s my boy, one of the jokes revolves around his son being force fed junk food and becoming diabetic! Look at the amount of Paula Deen jokes, when she announced that she had type 2 diabetes. It was fine to mock her, because hey, that’s what happens to fatties like her, they get what they deserve. Also diabetes is now commonly used to describe any remotely sweet food. just track the tag on tumblr to see the mess of people photographing their gluttony and tagging it lol diabetes#. Or people describing cutesy things as diabetes inducing. because it sweet and sweet sugary things give you diabetes (spoiler alert, diabetes doesn’t work like that ). Anyway sorry for highjacking your post and going off on a tangent , as someone with both depression and diabetes it’s disheartening to feel like the media constantly hold your condition in so little esteem, they will gleefully poke fun, or use it as a quirky plot point, with no through for the people who have to live with these conditions and the misconceptions they create.

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