Janet Jackson always seems so confident in public, but the singer shared in a revealing new interview that she’s struggled with depression and self-doubt off and on for most of her life.
In an honest and candid feature for ESSENCE, Jackson, 52, says that she’s “no expert” on happiness. “I have only my life experience as a guide,” she writes. “I've known great happiness and great sadness. But I guess the key question is, 'What do I really know about happiness?'"
In the article, Jackson revealed that she’s experienced depression at several points in her life. "I struggled with depression. The struggle was intense … Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority,” she wrote, as CNN reports. “It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards. And of course there are always the societal issues of racism and sexism. Put it all together and depression is a tenacious and scary condition. Thankfully, I found my way through it."
Jackson also talks about struggling with body image as a child. "I wasn't happy with the way I looked. For most of my life, that lack of happiness followed me," she said. "I wish someone had said, 'You look fine. You look healthy. Being a little chubby is the least important thing in the world. Enjoy your childhood. Enjoy running and laughing and playing. Stop looking in the mirror and comparing yourself to others."
But, she says, those negative feelings kept resurfacing when she was an adult. "In my forties: Like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value," she wrote. "Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair."
Now, Jackson says that she’s found joy in motherhood. "The height of happiness is holding my baby son in my arms and hearing him coo, or when I look into his smiling eyes and watch him respond to my tenderness," she wrote. "When I kiss him. When I sing him softly to sleep. During those sacred times, happiness is everywhere. Happiness is in gratitude to God. Happiness is saying, 'Thank you, God, for my life, my energy, and my capacity to grow in love.'"
It’s not uncommon for people with a history of depression to struggle with it again in the future.
Experiencing depression once doesn’t mean you’re destined to have it again, but it does increase your risk, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
At least half of people who have had a major depressive episode are at risk of having one again, according to the American Psychiatric Association, and 80 percent of people who have had at least two depressive episodes are likely to have another one.
Getting older also plays a role, David Klemanski, Psy.D, co-director of the Center for Counseling and Community Wellbeing at New York University, tells SELF. In general, people become more sensitive to stressors in their environment over time, he explains. That coupled with a history of depression puts you at a greater risk of having a depressive episode again in the future. “It’s fairly common,” Dr. Klemanski says.
Because depression can have a genetic component, a predisposition to being depressed in certain situations could simply be in your DNA, Kathryn Moore, Ph.D., a psychologist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF. "The could mean it ebbs and flows over your lifetime and that you can manage it better sometimes depending on what stressors you face," she says.
If you’ve struggled with depression in the past, there are a few things you can do to lower the odds you’ll deal with it again in the future. Understanding your triggers and the symptoms you tend to experience when you’re depressed is important, Klemanski says. “If you can identify what might be bringing depression on, that’s the key,” he says.
It's also important to look at your mental health the same way as you view your physical health, Moore says. Meaning, it requires maintenance, even when things are going well. That can include attending therapy regularly for years or doing daily things to address your mental health, like finding time to journal, meditate, socialize, or exercise, she says.
Of course, the best way to fight depression is to not be afraid to seek help when you sense a depressive episode coming on. That’s why Klemanski recommends checking in with a professional if you’re having a hard time. “You don’t have to do it alone,” he says.