Read This Before You Judge Kanye West's Struggle With Bipolar
Over the years, a lot of us have heard of some (or many) of Kanye West‘s eccentricities. Knowing mania from bipolar disorder could be behind them, though, should make us more patient and understanding with him. A person with such a diagnosis needs a support system. If I, who am unknown to most, struggle with bipolar… someone in the spotlight must struggle immensely due to the public shaming of his words and behaviors.
I didn’t care much for Kanye until he shared his bipolar diagnosis in 2016. Then, I understood him better. I was proud he let us know what he was battling. Mental illness needs to be spoken about. Myths need to be debunked. Understanding and empathy need to increase.
There is not just one type of bipolar disorder, and a bipolar diagnosis is not the same for everyone. There are a variety of symptoms and a spectrum. Mental health is touted as important, more so in recent years; however, ignorance abounds in understanding mental illness.
1. Not all thoughts and actions are results of mental illness.
2. Mental illness is complex. It’s not identical for each patient of the same diagnosis.
3. Mental illness care is multifaceted. Finding the right combination of lifestyle changes, therapy and combination/dosages of medications vary. There is no one-remedy-fits-all.
Kim says it best.
On July 22, 2020, Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian, stated on Instagram:
“Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words sometimes do not align with his intentions.”
This hit home with me. During my first few years of treatment for my bipolar condition, I learned I could not trust my thoughts and feelings were really my thoughts and feelings… and not those of a bipolar brain. Over time, I learned to slow down, process thoughts and emotions and give myself some time before making important decisions. This, however, was only possible due to my therapy and medications.
According to Maia Hoskin in Forbes magazine, “While a manic episode — highly publicized or otherwise — does not give license to be abusive nor is it an exemption from accountability — some argue that it does provide a possible context for his [Kanye’s] troubling behavior.”
Mental health advocate Bassey Ipki agrees: “Mental illness is not an excuse, but it is a reason… it has to be contextualized. It has to be framed so that people understand that the way that one behaves is the literal definition of what a mental illness is.”
Hold the ridicule.
With Twitter’s #PrayForYe aside, compassion and understanding have not been the common reactions from the public. He’s been mocked and ridiculed in spite of struggling with a serious mental health issue. Unfortunately, when someone experiences anxiety or depression, the stigma of mental illness can be immense. Just because an illness is mental, many have no shame in spouting their opinions without understanding the context.
Yes, Kanye is still accountable for his words and actions, and he should respond to those when he is able. However, we should not demand him to do so while in the throes of symptoms. He’s incapable at that time, as anyone else is who is in a current state of crisis. Advocate Nylah Burton clearly points out, “[Kanye] is arguably the most visible person with a bipolar diagnosis in the world, and what society says about him has the potential to further the stigma against all people with bipolar or other severe mental illness.”
Bang! She nails it with that statement. I want Nylah and Kanye to be my new best friends.
In spring of 2019, Kanye was a guest on Netflix’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.” Kanye describes his diagnosis metaphorically to Letterman as “[Bipolar] is like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle. And if someone has a sprained ankle, you’re not going to push on him more.” This is Kanye’s way of explaining the severe effects of ridiculing the mentally ill while they are in crisis… it’s a way of “pushing on them more,” which only causes further damage to the individual.
Proper treatment is a challenge to find.
Even with all the money in the world, getting the proper help for bipolar is not easy and can possibly take years. If therapy isn’t working, find a new therapist. If a medication or dosage isn’t working, have a doctor who will continue to try various combinations and dosages. Kanye has openly admitted to not taking medication for bipolar for the sake of his creativity. This, unfortunately, perpetuates the myth of the medical condition being necessary for great art.
Philip Muskin, a Columbia University psychiatry professor states, “It’s mostly people who experience mania…who complain that their medication makes them feel creatively blunted…Despite [mania’s] often negative consequences, to some people it can feel like a superpower, which might lead them to internalize the idea that their illness is the source of their talent.”
Muskin goes on to say that “not only does treatment not erase your creative abilities, but the correct combination of medication and therapy can make you more attuned to how your work’s quality will be perceived by people who aren’t in your mania with you.”
Again, the correct combination of medication and therapy and lifestyle changes is needed. I hope in the future, Kanye will rethink his relationship with medications. I also hope the public rethinks their words and behaviors in how they treat others. The stigma of mental illness already exists; don’t be a reason it burgeons.
Lead image via Wikimedia Commons