Celebrities with psychosis aren’t ‘crazy’ – they’re ill

Tila Tequila seems to be having a very public breakdown - but we shouldn't call her 'crazy'

Tila Tequila has “gone insane”. She’s “crazy”, according to Twitter. She’s “totally lost it”. She’s “psychotic”. She’s “mental”. The reason? Some Facebook posts.

Let’s be clear: a lot of people don’t like Tila Tequila. She’s repeatedly gone on racist rants and been generally problematic on subjects ranging from race to vaccination to feminism. But that’s not the point here. Nor is the provenance of her erratic online postings. Maybe she is mentally ill. Maybe she’s not. I don’t think that’s important – what’s important is the way people are talking about it.

Tila’s posts have, admittedly, been a little bizarre. She’s talked about how she’s “not human” and that she’s spent hours “staring at the sun” to discover there’s “another sun behind the sun”. It’s not your average celebrity fare, and actually quite closely resembles the language and concepts I was using during a psychotic episode a few years ago. But does that mean we should use offensive language to deride her? No. Obviously it does not. And just because she’s problematic, or shitty, or however you want to put it, does not mean we should use other kinds of slurs against her.

It’s weird, actually – I’ve noticed that where celebrities are concerned, otherwise socially conscious people have a blind spot. They understand mental health generally, are mindful of their language – but when it comes to famous people? This seems to evaporate.

It happened with Amanda Bynes, too. Maybe it’s the nature of celebrity that’s doing it, maybe it’s because we’re so used to scrutinising people’s lives that their mental health seems like it’s just another story to gossip about. Some of it’s couched in faux-concern – “I hope she’s okay…” – but it’s mainly just voyeuristic. Watching someone break down is awfully entertaining.

Or maybe it’s the nature of psychosis that makes these public celebrity meltdowns so hard for people to understand, why it makes people so quick to judge or mock. Britney charging at a photographer with a freshly shaved head or Amanda Bynes sending endless, nonsensical tweets that bear no resemblance to the tangible world we all normally live in – they’re not experiences people can relate to.

People are often sympathetic to my depressive periods because they understand them. They’re a known quantity, even to those who have never had a clinical problem. We’ve all been sad, or heartbroken, or numb. Extending that to its furthest logical conclusion is obviously a reductive way of looking at mental illness – but it does mean that people can often empathise.

But when I breathlessly tell them that I think someone’s broken into my flat and planted keys or candles or jewellery that I swear I’ve never seen before, or that someone is following me, or that I’m hearing something – that’s where that understanding normally runs out. That’s where people stop being able to empathise. Because they just don’t understand. They don’t understand how anybody could genuinely invest in these wild, illogical thoughts. “How can she possibly think that’s true?” I can see them think. “This is terrifying.”

So how do we demystify this kind of breakdown? I think we need to embark on the same kind of destigmatising campaign that depression and anxiety have been subject to. People who are psychotic are certainly crazy if we’re talking literally, but using that kind of language does nothing but dehumanise and confuse. I’m not dangerous when I’m psychotic; if anything, I’m more likely to hurt myself than anyone else.

What does calling someone ‘crazy’ do? Does it help them? Does it explain what they’re going through? Does it express the sometimes very distressing experience of paranoia or delusions? No. It’s obsolete. So stop – celebrity or not.


Main image: Tila Tequila via Facebook