For many reasons, mental illness can be a sensitive subject. In the Black community, discussions about mental illness are discouraged. One of the most well-known is Bipolar Affect Disorder.
Despite the progress society has made, there is still a negative stigma. This is especially true when there is a lack of understanding. Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, in general, are difficult to deal with — for patients, family, and friends.
West’s mental illness is not an excuse to ask others not to criticize him, however, others should also extend some compassion. After the rap star’s public remarks, it is easy to understand why people would make a joke out of his life rather than show compassion.
The public’s response to Kanye comes from a lack of knowledge and decency. Though society has grown in its perception of mental illness, people tend to only respond kindly to ‘quieter’ mental illnesses. West suffers from bipolar disorder, which causes him to act out during manic episodes. Most people would view Kanye as aggressive and arrogant — they would not see him as a mentally ill person.
Society and Mental Illness
West went viral for saying, “Harriet Tubman didn’t free slaves.” His wife, Kim Kardashian, asked the public to show her family compassion. However, the public did not show West much compassion. Instead, people wrote tweets joking about his condition. One person even attended his rally just to joke about it. These remarks came out of ignorance, which is often the response to people with severe mental illnesses.
It is important to encourage people to open up about their mental health struggles. However, the response shifts when people have more severe mental illnesses. Typically, people who experience suicidal ideation, hallucinations, or mania are labeled dangerous and shown very little compassion. Even in movies, such as “Silver Linings Playbook,” characters with mental illnesses are villainized.
Race also plays a major role in the way society perceives mental illness. According to NBC News, “Pamela Turner, a Black woman with schizophrenia, was shot and killed by a Texas cop who knew of her condition.” Turner’s death did not cause a massive movement, nor is she the first Black mentally ill person to die at the hands of law enforcement. West’s situation is different as he has more privilege than people like Turner.
Nonetheless, the response is the same. In both Kanye and Turner’s situations, people largely disregarded the presence of mental illness. Society has a history of taking no notice of mental illness in Black people, thereby displaying their ignorance.
Pop Culture and Mental Illness
Additionally, fame can also play a role in mental illness. In 2007, when Britney Spears had a public mental health crisis, the initial response was to mock her. There are even parodies of the meltdown, causing Spears’ crisis to become one of the most infamous moments in pop culture.
The idea that mental illness is a joke to be played with is also present in movies. For instance, in the 2016 movie ‘Split’ the main character is made out to be a superhuman villain. In reality, he actually has 23 different personalities developed to help him cope with trauma.
The stories are fetishized and villainized to make real mental illnesses seem as if they are a myth.
Society and Ableism
In spite of the evidence proving how real and detrimental mental illness can be, people continue to mock and shame those who go against the idea that it is a myth. With films like “Split” being so widely accepted, many people believe this ableist (discrimination in favor of able-bodied people) mentality to be appropriate.
Unfortunately, this ideology plays a major role in the lives of those with severe mental illness.
In fact, the suicide rate for undiagnosed bipolar disorder is 10 to 30 times higher than the general population. For this reason, showing compassion to people like Kanye is incredibly important. His mental illness does not exclude him from criticism, but it should make society a bit more careful and cautious about how they respond.
Opinion News by Reginae Echols
Business Insider: I’m a Black bipolar woman. The way we talk about celebrities like Kanye West shows how much we still need to fight stigma around severe mental illnesses.
CNN: Kim Kardashian West addresses Kanye West’s mental health and asks for compassion
NBC: Kanye West’s 2020 apology, Kim Kardashian’s plea and a harsh truth about mental health
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Inline Image Courtesy of Super 45 | Música Independiente’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License