UPDATE: On Sunday, July 26, Bobbi Kristina Brown died in Georgia, surrounded by friends and family. The post below was written in February, 2015, just weeks after she was placed in a medically-induced coma in January. For complete coverage of Bobbi Kristina Brown’s untimely death, please click here.
Bobbi Kristina Brown’s condition is still grim more than three weeks after being admitted to Emory University Hospital and being placed into a medically-induced coma. The daughter of the original R&B bad boy Bobby Brown and the legendary late singer Whitney Houston was found unresponsive and lying face down in a tub in her Roswell, GA home on Saturday, Jan. 31. Ever since, the 21-year-old has been the center of a media frenzy unleashing false reports of her imminent death, an investigation on possible foul play from her boyfriend, Nick Gordon, stories of Bobbi Kristina’s past drug use, family problems and a recent, near-fatal car crash.
It is still unknown why Bobbi Kristina lost consciousness in her bathtub and the Roswell Police Department has stated that they did not find drugs openly displayed when surveying her home. In a second search, authorities reportedly found evidence of drugs, but did not release the cause of her January 31 incident.
In any case, the facts that we do know about Bobbi Kristina’s current state and her troubled family history reminds us that understanding (and treating) generational depression and addiction are crucial to our health. The shock and irony in Bobbi Kristina’s current situation is that she was found in the exact same manner in which her mother was found dead from cocaine use and heart disease in a Beverly Hilton Hotel room, almost three years to the day.
Bobbi Kristina’s current medical issues are unsurprising, given her unfortunate and complicated upbringing in the midst of her parents’ highly publicized marital issues and drug use. It’s well known that Bobbi Kristina witnessed drug use and domestic violence between her parents at a young age. She’s also been caught using cocaine and drinking underage in tabloids and reality shows since the age of 17. This isn’t the first time Bobbi Kristina has spent time in the hospital. Reports say that she was hospitalized when her mother died for anxiety and that Bobbi Kristina allegedly was put into a psych ward for attacking her mother as a teen.
Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at California State University, suggests that Bobbi Kristina may have been given too much independence at the time of her mother’s death. “We think teenagers in our culture are a lot more grown-up than they are,” Durvasula said. “They’re kids. I see a girl who’s having a really hard experience. We’re all speculating about it but at the end of the day, she probably needed more support than she was receiving in this really trying time.”
It remains to be seen how the Houstons and the Browns will handle Bobbi Kristina’s medical condition as she fights for her life. But for everyone watching, this tragedy is a strong cautionary tale about the importance of dealing with mental health problems and substance abuse that plague generations. This is especially true for ethnic communities that have historically struggled to come forward for help. These minority communities are largely under treated, misdiagnosed and sometimes even over-diagnosed for their mental health issues.
“I think that particularly for African-Americans [who have been] marginalized for so many years, it’s challenging for us to acknowledge this type of issue because people see it as a weakness and the last thing we need is for people to look at us as being ‘bad,’” Scyatta Wallace, a psychologist and teen expert said. Wallace urges Black women to get the treatment we need for our mental health. “We are strong, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. I don’t like the idea of the ‘strong Black women’ theme because it tends to make us not want to ask for help.” Did Whitney ever cry out for help? What we often saw in the media around her addiction was denial. Remember the “Crack is whack” mantra from her now-infamous interview with Diane Sawyer?
Wallace explained how mental health issues can travel from one family member to the next. “There’s the potential hereditary component of depression and addiction which is very common, regardless of race. That’s one of the reasons that it’s really important you understand your medical history because it allows you to be prepared or aware of what may come.” Wallace went on to say that unhealthy parenting from someone with mental health issues may also have a damaging effect on a child. Sources close to the Houston family revealed that Whitney would buy Bobbi K cases of beer to consume in the house with her friends and it’s even been said that they shared the same drug dealer.
“The child may not get the proper kind of parenting because you have many moods of not wanting to move, not being able to get up and participate and [you] lead more negative self-talk in your perspective on life,” Wallace said. “These are things that may get passed down.”
Addiction also has generational effects. Parents with substance abuse problems may be absent from their children’s lives and can create an unpredictable environment that can make a child feel unsafe or uncared for. We also know that addiction can result from self-medicating for mental health issues, or simply being predisposed to it because of the substances that relatives were abusing in years past.
Statistics found in a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show just how urgent it is for young adults to take better care of their mental health and addiction issues. Approximately 6.4 million U.S. adults aged 18 to 25 had some type of mental illness at the time of the report. This represented almost one in five young adults in this country. There were also about 2.2 million young adults that had co-occurring mental illnesses and substance use disorder. More than 60 percent of young adults with mental illnesses or issues with substance abuse were female. Finally, 66.6 percent of adults with mental illnesses did not receive the care they needed to address their health problems.
Experts are finding generational trends as well for millennials’ mental health problems. The Annual Freshman Survey found that in 2014, the emotional health of incoming freshman was at its lowest point in three decades. Students are spending more time studying than being with friends. As a result, they are increasingly reporting that they feel depressed and one-third are more overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Experts speculate that increased time spent on social media may have something to do with the dramatic shift in young adults’ self-esteem.
So what exactly do we need to know about mental health? Specifically with the issues faced by the Brown/Houston family, what are the signs of depression and addiction and how do we address them?
“With depression, you’re going to see people isolate, you’re going to see people have low energy, this fatigue, agitation, irritability, anger, constantly saying things that are very degrading,” Elana M. Clark-Faler said. Clark-Faler is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director of Recovery Help Now Inc. She continued to say that people with mental health issues are often defensive or in denial and need to be confronted about whether or not they will hurt themselves.
Mental health and addiction are vast issues, but thankfully, there are simple steps we can all take to handle them. Clark-Faler emphasizes that people shouldn’t be forced into treatment.
“People change when they decide to change. Arguing someone into therapy, or pushing someone into therapy, or making someone do something does not work,” Clark-Faler said. “You can tell this person that you’re concerned, that you love them, that they need help. If you think that they’re going to hurt themselves, then call the police. There are things that you can control. But there are some things that you can’t. You can only do what’s within your power.”
Wallace and Clark-Faler note the uniqueness of Bobbi Kristina’s situation as a celebrity. She and her family face an immense amount of pressure from being in the limelight and not being able to maintain a private life. Still, they urge people to step out of their comfort zone, to be forthcoming about their mental health problems and to be unafraid when asking for help.
Durvasula notes the sweeping changes that the mental health industry needs to improve on to better serve communities of color: making services more accessible and affordable, training more minorities so that service providers that look like the people they serve, teaching people how being a minority can mean dealing with oppression and how that breeds vulnerability to disorders like depression, mental health and substance abuse. Ultimately, she offers her condolences to the Houston/Brown family and wishes Bobbi Kristina the best.
“I think that this is an incredibly tragic story. To lose your mom at 17-years-old is hard, no matter what and when you add to it the complicated life your mom lives, it makes it even harder.”