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7 Things the Reaction to Kanye West's Hospitalization Tells Me About Mental Health

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If you haven’t already heard, or if you don’t frequent social media, a week ago, Kanye West was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I know there are many varying opinions about Kanye. I’ve heard him described as extremely arrogant, often referring to himself as “godlike.” I’ve read he has made very odd, accusatory comments in the last few months. For me, of greater importance as a therapist is not Kanye’s personality, nor his diagnosis, but what Kanye West’s hospitalization actually means for mental health, and for those consumers of mental health services.

I have heard several explanations for Kanye’s current mental state, such as:

1. The anniversary of his mother’s death caused his “breakdown”

2. Illuminati

3. The “Kurse of the Kardashians”

4. Hospitalization to collect insurance money

I have to admit, after reading several articles on Facebook and viewing the comments, I felt rather disheartened. I truly believe the comments section on Facebook represents the heart of the people.

After reading literally thousands of comments, here are seven conclusions about mental health I believe can be made from the responses to Kanye West’s hospitalization.

1. Many people still seem to view mental illness as “fake.” (Kanye is just “acting crazy.”)

I read several comments which alluded to Kanye simply “acting crazy.” Some said he was acting simply to obtain insurance money to rid himself of financial woes. The thing is, though, out of my almost 10 years in the mental health field, I have yet to meet one mental health patient who “faked” an illness just to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

In my experience, no one wants to deal with mental illness, and no one wants to spend time hospitalized for a mental health disorder. The fact is many people who spend time in a mental health inpatient unit are there because their life and safety depend on it, and without this intervention, death is a real possibility.

2. Many label mental health and associated behaviors as “attention- seeking.”

Several commenters stated Kanye made outlandish statements to obtain attention. Many reported this was just another “antic” to get a “rise” out of others and obtain media attention. My response as a therapist is that behavior is purposeful. If Kanye made strange statements and was truly experiencing paranoia, then there was likely a purpose for this. Instead of indulging in the statements, I believe the reason why he made these statements should be examined. Was he hurting? Was he in pain? Was he experiencing a manic episode? Those are the questions I feel should be asked.

3. Black men can’t be depressed (or don’t get to use the “excuse” of being depressed).

As a black therapist, I can tell you a mental health stigma already exists within the black community. I’m not sure who decided that black men shouldn’t hurt or be in pain, but almost one in 10 American males struggles with depression or anxiety, and I’ve observed that black men can be even less likely to seek serious psychological help. Again, several readers stated Kanye was not depressed and his troubles were his own fault because he married Kim Kardashian.

What type of message do Facebook comments such as these send to black men? It can tell them to “suck it up” and “deal with it,” or “We don’t care about your pain.”

I am not OK with this message. Black men (and all men for that matter) should not be afraid or ashamed to seek help.

4. Grief shouldn’t last too long. (Just get over it!)

Several other comments I read stated Kanye needed to “get over” his mother’s death because she passed away almost 10 years ago. Grief does not have a magic number. If Kanye is indeed still grieving over his mother, then I would hope he wouldn’t just brush his feelings aside, but instead deal with his feelings, as his grief has likely turned into something more, such as depression.

5. Mental health breaks are still frowned upon. (Work even when you are struggling.)

I read in one article that Kanye West had multiple concerts back to back and was suffering from exhaustion. I wonder why his support team did not intervene and ask him to take a break? There were clearly signs. But true to mental health, often signs can be missed or simply ignored.

6. Mental health seems secondary to medical health. (Medical is excusable, mental is not.)

I wonder if the world would react the same way had Kanye fainted because of hypertension. Would we see comments such as “Prayers for Kanye” instead of “Kim’s making him crazy”? And while I’m not negating high blood pressure by any means, I’d love to see mental health receive the same respect as other medical conditions.

7. The stigma of mental health still exists.

I realize while you are reading this you may not have been one of the people who commented on Kanye’s story in this way. Maybe you even posted something positive. But other comments on Facebook have been a stark reminder that mental health stigma is ever-present.

No matter your views about Kanye, I ask — no, I beg of you to please think about your comments before making assumptions. When you post negative assumptions, you may be negating the realness of mental health and mental illness for others.

Please give Kanye, as well as your family members, co-workers and loved ones, the benefit of the doubt, because there are literally thousands of hurting individuals who deal with mental illness on a daily basis, and are waiting for acceptance, love and respect.

Keli Gooch is a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider. Her mission is to end mental health and disability stigma through education and inspiration. Her first book in her children’s mental health series is scheduled to launch in January 2017.

Image via Wikimedia Commons / Kenny Sun

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Originally published: November 30, 2016
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