Kanye West's presidential campaign has been chaotic from the outset, however, things took a turn for the worse with his recent presidential campaign rally in South Carolina. While we by no means support Ye running for president, his unsettling statements and erratic behavior are deeply concerning and not something to make light of.
At his rally, Kanye broke down in tears and outlined his controversial politics, including factually incorrect claims about slavery and detailed a worrying stance on abortion laws. Then on Monday, in a string of since-deleted tweets the rapper made wide-ranging claims, including accusing his wife Kim Kardashian-West and mother-in-law Kris Jenner of trying to “lock me up because I cried about saving my daughters life yesterday.”
Responses to Kanye have been mixed. While his politics, which are essentially anti-black, misogynistic, and dangerously uninformed, deserve to be criticized, the man himself should not be publicly crucified while he is seemingly struggling with a mental health issue. In this vein, Kim Kardashian made a public plea, calling for compassion and understanding in light of her husband's actions. In her statement, Kim shed light on the difficulties and intricacies of having a loved one go through a manic episode.
For fans, the rapper's recent public outbursts put us in a confusing position, having to toe the line between sympathy, criticism and ridicule. If anything, we can hope to learn from this and be on the right side of the conversation. We can't praise Kanye's genius when he's healthy and then mock him the moment he is most vulnerable. So here's a guide to better understand bipolar disorder.
What is bipolar disorder?
Kanye West revealed his bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2018 and has been very vocal about it since. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, bipolar disorder, "manic depression," is characterized by "dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly."
On one hand, patients experience very high periods known as "mania" when they feel energized and elated, even to the point of delusion and recklessness. On his 2018 song "Yikes," Kanye described this as his "superpower."
However, the other "pole" of the illness is depression: ultra-low episodes that can include inability to feel pleasure and suicidal thoughts. The rapper has admitted to dealing with severe depression and suicidal thoughts in the past.
Bipolar can often manifest itself as paranoia. Ye addressed this in an interview with David Letterman last year. "When you're in this state, you're hyper-paranoid about everything, everyone," West explained at the time. "This is my experience, other people have different experiences. Everyone now is an actor. Everything's a conspiracy. You feel the government is putting chips in your head. You feel you're being recorded. You feel all these things."
Risk factors for a manic episode
Doctors emphasize that many stressors and factors can lead to a manic episode. Trauma or a disruption of "social rhythms" can trigger an episode.
As Kim alluded to in her statement, Kanye’s “painful loss of his mother” is a defining factor. Notably, the rapper’s upcoming album is named for his mom, DONDA. Many Kanye fans have also observed that the rapper's manic episodes usually occur around periods of extreme productivity. His albums have always been prone to erratic delays and last-minute changes.
According to a source close to the rapper, West is prone to working as many as 48 hours at a time, a possible sign of a manic state. With all the projects attached to Kanye at the moment, it isn't far-fetched to say he is going through another episode. He recently signed a 10-year partnership with Gap, he’s also producing a film alongside the album, and running for president – all stressors heightened by public scrutiny.
Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic could be another defining factor. People with bipolar disorder are sensitive to disruptions, which means lockdown and isolation could cause particular harm.
Treatment for bipolar disorder
The bedrock for treatment is mood stabilizing drugs. However, Kanye has repeatedly insisted he does not take medication "because he feels they make him less creative."
As Kim revealed, there's little to nothing the family and loved ones of someone suffering through a manic episode can do. "Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor," she wrote. "People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individual themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try."
According to CNN, Kanye was evaluated by a doctor on Monday who decided that he did not need to be hospitalized, but he will undergo another evaluation on Wednesday.
What can you do?
Kanye's case highlights the strides we need to take as a society in addressing mental health from a place of compassion and not ridicule. As Kim Kardashian explained, "We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most."
Singer Halsey has also been vocal about taking Kanye's mental health, especially his bipolar disorder, seriously. "Personal opinions about someone aside, a manic episode isn't a joke. If you can’t offer understanding or sympathy, offer your silence," she wrote on Twitter. We should start by changing how we speak about Kanye's illness.
If you or someone you know is dealing with bipolar disorder there are a myriad of ways you can ask for help. If you are in a crisis, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the US, or dial one of the international suicide hotlines listed here.