SWV’s Coko Explains How Understanding Her Bipolar Diagnosis Helped Her Discover A Better Version Of Herself

Inspired by Mental Health Awareness Month, Coko's finally learning to embrace every aspect of her life.

Cheryl "Coko" Gamble has one of those voices that bends your soul in all the right ways whenever you hear it. She’s mostly known for being the lead singer of the renowned female R&B group SWV (Sister With Voices) and for sporting stiletto acrylic nails back in the 90s, making the trend popular before it could be reinvented. But Coko, 52, is also known for always keeping it one-hundred. She’s completely straightforward, honest, and she's never afraid to express her opinions.

When we first got to know the Bronx native on BET's Ladies Night with Salt 'n' Pepa, many viewers were surprised by Coko's blunt nature, which some may have found challenging. Now, Coko is putting it all out there along with the other ladies of SWV, Taj (Tamara Johnson) and Lelee (Leanne Lyons), on Bravo's SWV & Xscape: Queens of R&B, a six-part limited series that looks inside the personal and professional lives of the two girl groups as they perform together across the country. It’s here that we begin to truly understand why Coko has a tendency to speak her mind, filter free.

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, the mother of two opened up to for an exclusive interview to discuss why she wanted to reveal details about her own mental health challenges, how she hopes it will help others, and how she’s finally learning to embrace every part of who she is as a woman, a mother, and an entertainer.

SWV & XSCAPE: THE QUEENS OF R&B -- Season 1 -- Pictured: Cheryl Coko Gamble
Cheryl Coko Gamble in "SWV & XSCAPE: THE QUEENS OF R&B" Congratulations on finishing up the first season of SWV & Xscape: Queens of R&B! You recently revealed your newly short, blonde hair, and everybody flipped out. What made you change your look?

Coko: Well, I have been wanting to cut my hair for some time, but what most people don't know is that I cut my hair a minute ago. I was just still wearing the wigs.

I recently dyed it and took a picture, and my stylist called me like, ‘Girl!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm not wearing this,’ and he said, ‘Oh, yes, you are!’ So I was really nervous about revealing it to the world. Because, you know, people talk, and I didn't know how they would receive it. I appreciate that people love it. It looks gorgeous! Now that the show is over and you have a little time before you go out on tour with Dru Hill and Jodeci, what have you been up to?

Coko: We go on tour in July, so I am taking the time to just chill out until we go into rehearsals. We may do little shows here and there, but for the most part, I am hanging with my family. Family is everything, for sure. It’s interesting, when fans watch the Ladies Night series and compare it to Queens of R&B, the internet consensus is that there is a noticeable difference in your personality—that you seemed more chill this time around. Would you agree?

Coko: Absolutely. What you get from me now is my truth. Let's talk about that. On the show, you shared that you were diagnosed as bipolar. What made you decide to speak about it?

Coko: I've spoken on it before, but now that we have the TV show as a platform, I just wanted to speak my truth because this is who I am, and I just wanted people to get to know me a little bit more and understand where I'm coming from.

I’m human, and I deal with the same stuff that everyone else does. I also want to deflate the stigma that being bipolar means being crazy. It is something that people have to deal with and work out accordingly. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

RELATED: Mental Health Awareness Month: These Experts Tell Us How They Remain Positive And Achieve Their Goals What was going through your mind when you were first told about your diagnosis?

Coko: Actually, I was relieved. Now, I wanted to know what I needed to do to improve my mental health. I know that people are scared of a diagnosis, you know, because it's like, ‘Who does that make me now?’ But I encourage people to see a doctor when they know that something isn't right.

I told my therapist, ‘Let's get to it!’ But I must honestly say my biggest concern was, ‘Who is this lady going to be?’ I was used to being one way for so many years that I needed my therapist to walk me through this journey. You also mentioned on the show that you take medication to help you stay balanced. Has it made you feel better?

Coko: I was given two medications. One of them I just will not take, and the other is the one that keeps me level. My main concern with taking any medications was, ‘Am I going to know this person once I take this medication?’ That made me nervous. The medicine I take, you know, helps me out a lot. It calms me down and allows me to be myself. Is there anything else you do (other than take your medication) that keeps you balanced?

Coko: I work out because it helps me get into the groove of whatever. It doesn't have to be a lot, but something that makes me feel relaxed. I enjoy walking on the treadmill for an hour. My son, Jalen, says it's boring, but it works for me. Now that people have a little more clarity about who you are as a woman, what else do you want them to know?

Coko: As a woman of a particular age, it is important that we put our health and wellness first. Again, this is why I shared my story. I want you to know that this is something that I deal with on a daily basis, and now you can see me for real! It's okay to get help in order to understand who you are and become a better version of yourself.

For a directory of mental health providers and programs serving the African-American community near you, visit the Boris L. Henson Foundation at

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