Oh, how far away we are from knowing how to relate to people with mental illnesses.
Usually, when I see tweets and Facebook posts about “mental health awareness,” I breathe a heavy sigh. Online reactions to Kanye West’s presidential campaign rally in South Carolina on Sunday (July 19) are exactly why.
Kanye, who has bipolar disorder, was apparently symptomatic as he spoke about topics as wide-ranging as slavery and abortion.
He made a false claim Harriet Tubman didn’t free any slaves but rather “just had the slaves go work for other white people.” He was in tears as he told the crowd he and his wife Kim Kardashian had considered aborting their first child North West. He was angry when talking about how he wasn’t on the company boards of either adidas or Gap and threatened to cut ties with both companies if that didn’t change.
An anonymous source told People Kanye has been experiencing recent episodes of mania and depression related to his disorder. Many on Twitter concurred and pleaded for Kanye to get the help he needs.
Others ridiculed Kanye for his behavior, apparently being entirely dismissive of the fact his actions are fueled by his disorder.
I don’t understand why it’s difficult to acknowledge that Kanye is just an awful person.
It’s not mental health. It’s not his wife or her family.
It’s him. This is not higher grade..
— Miss Sinesipho Status Quo Maninjwa (@Synesyfe) July 20, 2020
If Biden’s playing chess while Trump’s playing checkers, Kanye’s running around the park’s game area chasing pigeons
— TrivWorks (@TrivWorks) July 20, 2020
Kanye said this and I left immediately. I went for a laugh and I got one. But when it got disrespectful for me it was over. pic.twitter.com/nNqjUp03mu
— Toe Knee (@toekneerlynos) July 19, 2020
Should we ignore Kanye West?
— Thomas Kaine (@thomaskaine5) July 20, 2020
Everyone’s a progressive until it comes to people with mental illnesses.
Kanye is an easy target for the ignorant and a flavor of the day for “woke” people on Twitter. The former shows how clueless many still are when it comes to mental illnesses, while the latter displays we’ve at least made some progress.
But here’s the thing: both reactions are misguided.
Kanye is not a jerk, joke or jackass. He’s sick. And there is only one person who can help Kanye West right now — Kanye West.
Kardashian told Vogue in 2019 medication wasn’t an option for Kanye because it changes who he is. This is a valid complaint. Medications make some people feel “flat” or dull. They can help alleviate symptoms but can also have side effects including weight gain, fatigue and nausea.
Medication is not a cure-all. Prescribing psychiatric medication is largely trial-and-error, and it can take up to several years to find an effective combination.
People also need to keep in mind Kanye is 43 years old. He’s not of a generation that’s particularly kind to those with mental illnesses. Much of the push for mental health awareness has been recent and occurred well after his formative years. He also wasn’t even diagnosed with bipolar disorder until he was 39, so navigating this diagnosis is still relatively new for him.
Regardless, he still needs to take onus for his mental health. I say that as someone with multiple mental health disorders. They’re just like any other illness; you can recognize you have it and do what you need to do to treat it. Or, you can ignore it and it can have a negative effect on you and those around you.
Contrary to popular rhetoric, I don’t believe this is Kardashian’s fault. She can’t make his disorder go away or make him get help anymore than a spouse of someone with diabetes can control their partner’s blood sugar levels or make them take their insulin.
In fact, no one can make Kanye do something he apparently doesn’t want to do. The only thing people can do is to stop feeding into the fervor surrounding his behavior.
The next time he has an episode, Twitter should be dead silent.
If you really want to help those with mental illnesses, push for educating children about them, so these kids don’t grow up with misguided notions on common and not-so-common mental health disorders. Vote for people who will make legislation changes that will keep people with mental illnesses from being legally discriminated against.
But don’t treat Kanye West like a reality TV show. It’s not helping. He said as much in a 2019 interview with David Letterman.
“It’s a health issue that has a strong stigma on it and people are allowed to say anything about it and discriminate in any way,” he said. “This 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.
“With us, once our brain gets to a point of spraining, people do everything to make it worse. They do everything possible. They got us to that point and they do everything to make it worse.”
To anyone still making this a trending topic, I’ll say this emphatically:
Stop making it worse.