Last year, one of the biggest mental health-related stories to hit the mainstream was the case of Andre "Christ Bearer" Johnson, the Wu-Tang Clan-affiliated rapper who hacked off his own penis while high on angel dust and suffering from depression. The media frenzy surrounding his story was intense; he went from only being known among underground hip-hop fans to being plastered across the pages of nearly every newspaper and celebrity gossip magazine. It was bullying on a grand scale, with mainstream journalists mocking him for a potentially fatal act of self-harm. For Mental Health Awareness Day, I decided to get in touch with him to see what impact the actions of the press had on his recovery. The following story is a narration of his thoughts on this matter.
2014 wasn't exactly my year. My life had descended into a fog of depression after being prevented from seeing my daughters by their mother, and I was feeling as if nothing was going right. Then, just as I thought my situation couldn't get any worse, it did in a dramatic way. I had been smoking weed and PCP one day, trying to blot out the misery of life with drugs, when I lost all contact with reality and took the somewhat insane step of cutting my own penis off and jumping from a balcony. Dark, destructive thoughts had been running through my head under the influence of the dust, and I just thought, 'Fuck it. Maybe I'm better off without this thing so I can't have any more kids, seeing as things are going so badly with the ones that I've already brought into this world.'
Luckily, I survived the incident. It was a horrific episode that would have destroyed a lesser man, but I'm a member of the Original Nation of Islam, and believe that the indomitable spirit of All Mighty God Allah that permeates throughout my entire being allowed me to overcome it. This horrific act of self-harm was only the beginning of my ordeal, though. Unfortunately, we live in an era where the media see the mentally ill as a circus act. Rather than wishing me a speedy recovery, they harassed me constantly and did their best to try and mentally break me.
The media shit-storm surrounding what happened was crazy. While I should have been focusing on getting better and still had two more surgeries to go, I was bombarded by reporters from almost every publication in existence, which forced the hospital to move me from room to room so that I could get some privacy. Clearly, the press were more concerned about making fun of a life-threatening episode than they were about the fact I could have died.
After I'd been discharged from hospital, my depression was compounded by celebrities I had previously held in high regard making jokes at my expense in an attempt to profit from my misfortune. Some might argue that I brought my situation on myself by taking drugs, but when the story was first broken, the media didn't know that I was on dust at the time. They even reported that it was depression, not substance abuse, that had led to the incident. They weren't hounding me in a bid to highlight the dangers of drugs; they just wanted to sell copies of their publications by capitalising upon my personal tragedy. Urban radio personality Charlamagne even went as far as to label me "Donkey of the Day", a spot usually reserved on his show for people who have said or done something stupid. That doesn't exactly send out a positive message about people who are struggling with mental health issues. I was also ridiculed by major newspapers with wide circulations, whose journalists really should have known better.
According to Professor David Lester of Stockton University, who has studied suicide among famous people, treating celebrities like this puts their lives in danger. "It's similar to cyber-bullying, which frequently results in suicide," he says. "The psychiatric disorder increases the risk of suicide further."
I'm only really known in hip-hop circles, so I can't imagine what people in the wider public eye go through when they suffer from mental illnesses. Professor Lester's sentiments have been echoed by Patrick Corrigan of the Illinois Institute of Technology, who was the editor of the book, The Stigma of Disease and Disability. "Making fun of a celebrity's mental illness not only worsens his or her challenges, but worsens the stigma of mental illness," he says. "Stigma can be as problematic for people as the symptoms of their mental illnesses."
Luckily, I had my faith to help me overcome these trials and tribulations. Your values determine what you do in life, and belief in being your own personal Jesus is an integral part of the Original Nation of Islam. I am the god of my own world, so change had to come from within. I rose above all the criticism, made self-deprecating jokes about my accident to keep my spirits up and continued to make my music in the hope of empowering others.
The fact still remains that the media are complicit in contributing to the stigma that's placed on mental health issues. A radical change is needed, or we will remain in the dark ages, where people who suffer from psychological problems will continue to be ostracised and treated as figures of fun. The media defines societal opinions, but also reflects them, so just as I was ultimately responsible for my own recovery, we are all responsible for bringing about the change we want to see.
Hopefully it will come sooner rather than later, because it's desperately needed.
More stuff from VICE: