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What Reaction to Kehlani's Attempted Suicide Teaches Us About the Mental Health Stigma

31/03/2016 16:20 | Updated 01 April 2016

If someone were to tell you they were depressed, what you would do?

What about if they said they had anxiety? What if somebody were to tell you they were suicidal and were thinking of taking their own life - What would you do?

It appears that social media and its masses finally got a chance to wade in on this debate on Monday evening, when a certain R&B singer revealed a failed suicide attempt, much to the contempt and ridicule of the world, I would like to say that I can't believe I even have to write an article like this defending her and others who suffer from mental illnesses when it really shouldn't be so trivial at all, but the reality is - I can believe it.

To give a little bit of the backstory, 20-year-old Kehlani is a fast-rising R&B singer-songwriter from Oakland, who has been thrown into the spotlight during the past year or so, having released a successful Grammy-nominated album. Some of you may also recognise her name from featuring on One Direction star Zayn Malik's debut album, 'Mind of Mine', but quite frankly whether you have heard of her or not at this point, is irrelevant. To cut a long story short, the Internet went into uproar when her ex-boyfriend, Drake labelmate PartyNextDoor, uploaded a picture onto Instagram of them together, when everyone thought she was still in a relationship with Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player, Kyrie Irving.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Kehlani didn't actually cheat, of course the usual tirade of insults engulfed the Twitter hemisphere, with people berating Kehlani and calling her every name in the sun from cheater to slut. Again showcasing just how patriarchal and misogynistic we have become as a society, even when a false narrative is applied. I use the term, "become" loosely here because "slut-shaming," as it's now coined, has been around for years on end. In fact it's become so normalised in today's day and age that it's hard to find a woman who has not been called a variation of the word. We are taught to criticise women no end for their real or presumed sexual activity, but what they don't tell you is that slut-shaming doesn't come without potential side effects, such as depression, anxiety, self-hate and suicide, and in Kehlani's case the latter was the main talking point, when she uploaded a picture onto Instagram after her failed attempt.

Unfortunately, most people chose to ignore the fact that their unnecessary slut-shaming had in part, driven a young woman to attempt to take her own life, and instead focused on the fact that she had even uploaded the picture in the first place, with many saying that she was attention seeking and that it was a mere marketing tool, allegations that are as ludicrous and downright pathetic as they sound. "People who really want to kill themselves and fail don't put it on social media" someone said. But my question is, how would you know? Are you Kehlani? In fact, what's most ironic about all this is I can guarantee that most people saying such things have probably been lucky enough to have never had an issue with mental illness in their life, hence the undeniable ignorance. The reaction to Kehlani admitting her attempt proved just how stigmatised mental health, so much so that we can't even talk about it without getting some sort of backlash. Being shamed is what was a trigger for her, but it can be almost anything.

But for the hypocrites, I have another question. If someone is suffering from depression and isn't in a good frame of mind, are they supposed to stay silent and act like they are okay? Are we not supposed to speak about failed suicide attempts? Are we supposed to act like it's all-normal? The answer to all of those questions would of course be no. And if you think otherwise, I really do hope that nobody that you love or care about, or yourself ever suffers from depression or another mental illness. I hope they never struggle to see the light through the dark. I hope no one ever calls them selfish for asking for help and wanting it to be bright again. I hope they are treated with the compassion, understanding and love you fail to give those like Kehlani, who you immediately dismiss because of their celebrity status, although they are human beings just like you and me. I hope that you, or they, never decide that sleep is easier than life.

But most important of all. I hope you realise that you are contributing to the stigma of mental health. You are THE problem, not us. You and your ignorance are the reason people who suffer with mental illnesses feel like they have no other option. You are the reason why people feel like they have to cope alone. You are the reason so many people, including numerous people around you, feel they have to hide something that eats them up inside no matter how hard they try. Something that convinces them that life is not living anymore.

And to those of you who still think mental health isn't serious, telling someone to "just smile and get over it" isn't helpful either. How would you like it if you couldn't swim, and someone told you to "just swim" when you were drowning? Depression is very real, and at times like this I really hate the Internet and all forms of social media. It's as if constant use of the avenues available to us has led us all to being so desensitised we do not know whether we should help people or laugh at them, and in situations like this, we have people making ignorant comments for favourites and retweets.

This brings me to topic of Chris Brown, who also decided to wade in on the debate yesterday with his much unneeded input and accompanying sporadic meltdown. Quite frankly, it marvels me how a man who is physically abusive, emotionally abusive and verbally abusive to women, with lyrics heavily laced with misogyny and chauvinism thought he had the right to suggest that Kehlani's attempt was fake, when he has absolutely no idea what he is talking about, because if he did he wouldn't make such comments.

To end this piece, I want Kehlani and others to know, that no matter what anyone says, you are necessary, you are needed and you are important. You are not weak, in fact you are strong, and you are not anything that others define you to be negatively, for you are light and you shine bright. You are worthy, and no matter how pitch black it seems, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone's journey is different, don't dismiss someone's cry for help when you don't know what they're going through.

In this battle to stop mental health and illnesses from becoming further stigmatised, we need to spread love, not hate.

That's the only way we are going to win.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk
  • HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41

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