Thoughts on Maia Campbell


For the past few weeks, a very disturbing video clip of actress Maia Campbell has been rapidly circulating through cyberspace. In the video, the former co-star of the sitcom “In the House” engages in a verbal altercation with an unidentified man. Throughout the exchange, Campbell looks disoriented and disheveled, behaving erratically and lapsing in and out of coherent speech. The video also shows her being verbally abused and threatened by the cameraman and another “friend” who drove her to the strange neighborhood and left her in a car to be ambushed by the mean-spirited paparazzo.

Even more disturbing than the footage itself is the story behind it. Since childhood, Campbell has struggled mightily with bi-polar disorder, causing great stress for herself and her family. Since the death of her mother, famed writer Bebe Moore Campbell, Maia Campbell has slipped further into self-destruction, failing to take her medication and reportedly slipping into drug addiction, theft, and prostitution.

Unfortunately, most of the public conversation about Maia Campbell has treated her circumstance as comedy rather than tragedy. From email chains to gossip blogs to Twitter and Facebook, there has been an endless stream of cruel jokes about Campbell’s recent behavior, as well as the state of her mental health. Outside of the Internet, many radio, print, and television journalists have been equally brutal in their discussion of Campbell’s condition. Such behavior not only reflects society’s continued commitment to representing Black women as irrational, immoral, and hypersexual, but also our stunning indifference to issues surrounding black women’s mental health.

The case of Maia Campbell is not isolated, but part of a consistent pattern of treating the mental health struggles of Black women as comedic spectacles instead of sites of concern and care. From Whitney Houston to Lauryn Hill, prominent Black women have had their falls from grace met with public ridicule and disdain. In the case of Lauryn Hill, who many have suspected to be suffering from clinical depression and bi-polar disorder, the very same press that hailed her genius and beauty now routinely mock her appearance and behavior. This is reflective of a long tradition of fetishizing and exploiting Black female bodies, then discarding them once they are no longer useful for profit or pleasure.

Sadly, this ridicule is not coming primarily from outside forces, but from within the corridors of our own community. In the case of Maia Campbell, nearly all of the negative attention that she has received has come from Black media outlets. Others, like Hill and Houston, have been regularly referred to as “train wrecks” “crack hoes” and “chicken heads” by Black commentators. In addition to being disrespectful, this type of language reduces mental illness (and addiction) to a moral failing rather than a medical condition. Also, by treating mentally ill Black women as “good girls gone bad” rather than human beings struggling with legitimate sickness, we only reinforce deeply held taboos about mental health within the our community.

Given our disproportionately high exposure to incarceration, violence, poverty, homelessness, and parental abandonment, Blacks are particularly vulnerable to mental illness. Although we comprise less than 12 percent of the population, we account for more than 25 percent of the nation’s mental health needs. Despite these staggering numbers, Blacks are among the least likely to seek mental health care. While this reluctance is partly to due to a lack of adequate health care and income, as well as a healthy distrust of the American medical establishment, our culture continues to frame mental illness as a sign of individual weakness.

This is particularly true for Black women, who have had to bear the social burden of being “strong” wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters in the face of various forms of inequality and abuse, both inside and outside of the home. As a result, the need for mental health intervention is often accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation. This is why, despite being 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression than their white counterparts, black women are considerably less likely to seek medical help. Instead, many ignore their symptoms or attempt self-medication through drug and alcohol abuse, all of which only intensify the problem. It is for these reasons that our treatment of women like Maia Campbell has such dangerous implications for the broader community.

We must begin to dismantle all of the stigmas that undermine our collective well-being. Once we’ve done this, we will no longer look at the Maia Campbell video as a source of comic relief. Instead we will be angry at the men who have abused and exploited her illness for their own gain. We will be outraged at the people who gave her illegal drugs and alcohol rather than prayer and intervention. Most importantly, we will replace our culture of judgment and blame with an ethic of love and support. Until we can do these things effectively and consistently, our entire community is in need of healing.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on Maia Campbell

  1. I am very glad you touched on this topic Marc for real. The vile and insensitive things I have seen people post online about Maia and it’s very disheartening to know that people have such a callous attitude towards mental health issue that I feel contributes to the stigma. What’s worse is the manner in which she’s being exploited, I’ve seen one of the videos and it’s sad to hear people laughing at her like she’s putting on an act.

  2. Great post! I really miss Lauryn and I was so saddened by the video of Maia Campbell that I couldn’t watch very much of it. The lack of compassion for one another in our community in particular and in the larger culture in general is so disturbing to me.

  3. This is sad that so many people out there are hoping the worse for this person just to make their lives feel less pathetic. I pray for Maia, as I would any human dealing with loss, drugs and psychological issues. I hope she can and will get the help she needs.

  4. I am so glad that you chose to write about this topic. I first saw the video of Maia circulating on Facebook and was very saddened by it. This only serves to reiterate that mental illness effects everyone from all walks of life and is not somehthing that should be mocked, downplayed, or otherwise trivialized. With her celebrity status, one would think that people would rally around her and assist her with obtaining the treatment she so obviously needs. Instead, she is being made into a laughing stock! I pray for her and the other women like her who struggle daily with the brutal effects of mental health challenges!

  5. This is an excellent essay Marc. The video of Maia Campbell is beyond heartbreaking.
    I saw Maia a few years back out in LA and she was looking (and talking) very crazy. I know that her mother was trying her best to get her the help she needed but I think there was a lot of resistance on Maia’s part.
    While I was saddened to see maia in such a bad state; I was more pissed with the guys who flmed this. Do they not have any home training? Why was this so funny to them? Luckily, the video has reached the right people and her family has put her in rehab.
    I wonder if her family could sue those dudes for putting her out there like that. I know they werent ‘official paps’ they were just some triflin idiots trying to make a quick buck off of her….

  6. Thank you for bringing this to light, it is unfortunate that we live in a time that idiots run around filming the inner suffering of others for promise of a few $$ for self. They will realize that unjust never really prospers, Maia and those who suffer from mental illness deserve the same human rights as everyone else on this earth. I wish her well andher and her family well (I believe ahe is now getting the help she needs ) and god willing she will be abe to have it free of media interruption… Stuff like that really pisses me off no one deserves to be treated disrespectfully, ever!

  7. I saw the video of Maia Campbell and it is indeed heartbreaking. For a quick moment I thought it was a scene from a movie. Mrs. Rivers, I too questioned why these men would film her in that state. Do they not have sisters, mothers, and daughters?

    I think the stigma regarding Blacks and mental healthcare could partially be addressed by the Black church. As Black people we are taught to “pray it through”, “fast it through”, “talk it to the Lord in prayer”, and “speak with the pastors/elders.” I believe in the power of prayer and I also believe that God created doctors to demonstrate His healing ability/power. And that includes mental health doctors. I can recall having a conversation regarding taking antidepressants with one of my girlfriends. She was talking about the depressive state that she was in and I asked her if she was going to go to the doctor to get an antidepressant. She adamantly said NO. She said that she was going to pray her way through her depression. I explained to her if she had cancer or heart issues she would seek medical help and seeking mental health help for depression is the same thing. I tried to explain to her that depression is a medical condition. She wasn’t trying to hear it. Sadly, this stigma is so prevalent.

  8. Preach JJG!
    I hate that the black church (and black people in general) dont address these issues because of their faith. If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard a person say, “imma pray on it….”; I’d be a millionare! Pray on it AND get the help you need!
    But you’re right. For some reason, seeking medical help for a mental disability is a faux pas in our churches. . . . just one of the many reasons why i have walked away from the black church.. or from any church in that matter.. . . . .

  9. Yes, yes Mrs. Rivers speak on it! I walked away from the Black church for the same foolishness. Girl, but do you know what I do like. . .church online. . .lol. . .and oh, interfaith services.

  10. Hi,

    I am not family, but “thank you” for bringing this situation to light. I too saw the video of Maia and my heart went out to her. I was wishing I could have been there to pull her from the car; especially, when she started talking about how the “man” was going to beat her after the fact. I was deeply saddened and blogged my thoughts on it. I feel that too many times, women, black women, in particular, suffer from depression, and other diseases that affect mentally, but are too embarrassed to ‘publicly’ deal with it. Not that it’s the public’s business, but to at least acknowledge aloud. I have a friend that is going through the same thing and she breaks down often. She is on medicine for mild bipolar, and depression but refuses to take it for fear that “someone might find out and judge [her]”. I’m trying to do my part and let her know that it’s okay and beneficial to her health…we’ll see.

    You are correct about the many negative comments from cruel, ignorant, people on the internet and I could only imagine what the did to those close to her having to hear and see such things.

    I sincerely hopes she gets the help she needs and in a timely matter.

    Thanks for your post.

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