Last week, Kid Cudi posted a detailed note on Facebook explaining that he is battling with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation and is checking himself into rehab to deal with these issues. Cudi was remarkably candid about his battle with mental illness in the post, noting that he’s struggled with depression and anxiety his entire life and “hasn’t been at peace” as long as he’s been in the public eye.
The post was emotionally raw and unexpectedly vulnerable, but perhaps the most wrenching element was the tangible degree of shame Cudi feels about his predicament. The note concludes with him stating that he “feel[s] like shit” and is “so ashamed,” and he apologizes to his fans multiple times throughout for “letting them down.” He describes himself as a “damaged human” and says, quite simply, “I’m scared, I’m sad.”
In the wake of Cudi’s Facebook post, there has been a genuine outpouring of support for him by artists, publications and fans alike. Almost without exception, the responses have fallen into one of two categories: either people are offering up prayers, good vibes or messages of support for Cudi, or they have been moved to speak out about their own battles with mental illness in response. Since Cudi’s post went viral, the overwhelming consensus is that it was brave, touching and crucially necessary.
Why, then, did Cudi couch his note in the language of apology and shame? There are multiple potential reasons. Firstly, even though, as a society, we are rapidly progressing on this front, there are still contingents of people who frame mental illness as a weakness and exhort sufferers to “get over it” or “man up”—including a presidential candidate of the United States.
Black people in particular may be unfairly expected to take trauma—which is devastatingly common in black communities—on the chin, which makes the seeking of treatment even more unlikely. This is, in part, why Cudi’s post resonated so deeply with black men. The hashtag #YouGoodMan emerged the day after Cudi’s post, serving as a forum for black men to discuss their unique experience with depression and suicidal ideation.
A spotlight on this demographic’s battle with mental illness is sorely overdue: black people in America are 10% more likely to report having serious psychological distress compared to non-Hispanic whites, but, because of a variety of factors, including stigma and lack of access to healthcare, black men and women can be prevented from seeking help. We can see, in Cudi’s note, how these factors potentially contributed to his reluctance to seek help until things reached breaking point.
(It’s very much worth noting, as an aside that is beyond the scope of this article, that women who come out as being depressed are treated with a demonstrable lack of compassion compared to men who do the same, and the treatment of Kid Cudi compared to Kehlani is an illuminating example. The sexist double standard when it comes to mental illness is discussed using that example here, in a highly recommended piece of additional writing on the topic.)
Secondly, the tangible shame in Cudi’s note may stem from the fact that he is a celebrity speaking personally about depression. We often have a callous set of double standards that determine how we treat celebrities who admit to having a hard time with their mental health. Sure, it’s fine for ordinary people to admit to struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, but why is someone with riches and fame complaining?
This point was exemplified when, earlier this year, Cara Delevingne admitted to having suffered from depression. Many commenters expressed sympathy, but others commented as follows: “What? She’s beautiful, rich and successful. What does she have to feel bad about!?”
This line of thinking betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of mental illness (as well as the aforementioned double standard about women). You aren’t immunized from it by money, outward signs of success or conventional good looks, and when we fail to empathize with celebrities who open up about their struggles with mental illness, we entrench the idea that certain people shouldn’t be depressed or anxious; causing them to burrow even deeper in their sense of shame and further delaying their attempts to seek help.
Thirdly, Cudi is likely to have couched his note in terms of apology and shame because depression is an illness that causes you to think of yourself in unduly harsh terms. An excess degree of negative self-talk is characteristic of depressed people, who are, in short, likely to think of themselves as uniquely weak, bad and—not to put too fine a point on it—fucked.
Even depressed people who would never be uncharitable towards other people struggling with mental illness are likely to think that they themselves are simply pathetic, undeserving and fated to never feel any better, and this dichotomous train of thought is displayed in Cudi’s note with affecting clarity.
He seems to grasp, on a rational level, that he is basically good and deserving of help (“I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me?”) yet, on some deeper, subconscious level, still believes he is fundamentally fucked up and letting people down (“[I’m] ashamed to be a leader and hero to so many while admitting I’ve been living a lie. I’m sorry.”) This suspicion that you, yourself, are the real problem is common for sufferers of depression, which helps to explain the self-chastising tone of Cudi’s note.
Finally, for Cudi and many others, it can be embarrassing to admit to struggling for years with depression because, even though we are increasingly open about the existence of depression and decreasingly likely to outright mock its sufferers, we are still collectively misguided about how easy it is to treat and what that involves. Even well-meaning people might think solving depression is as simple as “thinking positive” or “looking on the bright side,” sidelining the fact that it is a complex mental illness that requires deeper intervention than simplistic calls to “cheer up.”
Positivity culture leads people who can’t simply “turn that frown upside down” to feel that they are doomed and misunderstood, because they are surrounding by peppy Instagram quotes and peers spewing forth pop psychology insights that “happiness is a choice.”
One of the core treatments for depression and anxiety is therapy, and some forms of therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are based on the idea that changing your thoughts can change the way you feel. However, CBT involves months and sometimes years of recognizing your own negative thought patterns, and then gradually modifying those instinctive, negative internal responses.
Managing depression is, therefore, an infinitely more nuanced and complicated process than simply “focusing on the positive,” and can take months (and even years) of dedicated work. Well-meaning exhortations for depressed people to “look on the bright side” or “think positive” are therefore reductive and can cause depressed people to feel heightened shame, because it implies that they are failing at the “easy” task of recovery. Cudi’s note hints at the burden depressed people feel to stop feeling the way they do (“I’m sorry. Its time I fix me.”)
For all of these reasons, Kid Cudi’s note is a crucial call to action; an illustrative case study of our attitude towards mental illness. We now know that Cudi has labored under the effects of mental illness for years, reaching out only when the issue reached breaking point. His note, therefore, highlights how far we still have to go in terms of recognizing mental illness and hastening the process of recovery, and our collective response to him should be extended to the people in our own lives dealing with the same issues.
We’re certainly moving in the right direction when it comes to our response to mental illness, but we still need to develop a better understanding that depression can affect anyone, including the rich and famous; that women aren’t worthy of any less compassion than men and black people are as deserving of treatment as anyone else; that our friends need at least as much empathy as our favourite celebrities; and that, while depression is treatable, such treatment involves reversing deeply entrenched ideas about our own self-worth, and that process can take some time.
Hopefully Cudi can continue to be an accessible example of the importance of beginning this process, and continue to clear a path for the rest of us as he journeys towards recovery.
Speaking of how we relate to celebrities, read about Kim Kardashian and celebrity “prankster” Vitalii Sediuk here.