Most people know Kanye West: rapper, owner of Yeezy, husband of the famous Kim Kardashian, and recent presidential candidate for the 2020 election. It is also well known that Kanye suffers from Bipolar disorder. Many have seen his public manic episodes, the most recent of which was, reportedly, his run for presidency. During his campaign, he held a rally in South Carolina, at which he shared extremely personal information about his family, and ranted on several unrelated topics. This episode was extremely public, as he is a celebrity and has a large platform, so many peoples’ views on mental illness may have been influenced.
Jen Julius, a social-emotional counselor at Ukiah High School, addressed how West’s manic episodes could influence the public’s perception of mental illness. Julius said, “I see people quite often writing people off as ‘crazy’ rather than showing compassion or curiosity around any potential mental health issues they could be facing.” Julius said that with the stigma around mental illness, “people are less likely to obtain help as they also don’t want to be perceived as ‘crazy!’ So we seem to be in a vicious cycle, unfortunately.”
Kanye West’s incident is a perfect example of the vicious cycle Julius described. Many members of the public assume that he has gone mad blaming his mental illness or writing it off as just a celebrity looking for attention. Because something like this is so public, people may become desensitized to it and not really view it as a mental illness. Julius commented on this by saying that people may lack empathy for him “due to his history of saying rather mean things publicly about others, which it appears he continued to do in his recent ‘episode.’ This can make it much harder to show compassion for someone who just appears ‘mean.’”
Public portrayals of mental illness can skew the way people see their own mental health. If individuals assess their mental health based on what they see in the media (either ‘perfectly happy’ influencers, or severe emotional and violent examples) their assessment could be incorrect. With there not being much representation for the common middle ground, our culture’s measurement of mental illness is greatly flawed. Julius adds, “with this being so public, I fear it may cause people with more mild symptoms to ignore them, thinking they “aren’t a big deal” or “aren’t that bad” and using his behavior as their gauge”. A public display of mental illness such as West’s can not only influence ideas on mental health by making people indifferent, but also by changing their perceptions of their own mental health.
There is a benefit of West’s public mental illness because mental health is usually so private and often taboo. Potentially, mental illness in the media may make it easier to talk about. The goal is to allow people to feel comfortable talking about and getting help with mental health, or as Julius put it, “No one would make fun of someone for going to the ER for a broken arm, or calling a mechanic when their car breaks down.” Julius added, “I wish people saw getting therapy/counseling/other mental health support the same way- when they are feeling their mental or emotional well-being isn’t where they’d like it to be- they simply contact someone who can help them gain the tools to feel better”.
While West’s negative public episode may have negatively affected the public’s perception of mental illnesses, hopefully some good can come out of society becoming aware of the struggles of mental illness.