Kanye West, now 43, has been a rapper and music icon since the age of 18. He has millions of adoring fans throughout the world. His fame only escalated in 2014 when he wed Kim Kardashian, who is the quintessential example of someone who is “famous for being famous.” However, far more than gossip about their celebrity marriage, four children or extraordinary wealth, Kanye has been in the news during recent years because of his mental illness.
Of late, he declared his presidential candidacy on July 4, then held a campaign rally in South Carolina. Incoherent and often weeping, he expounded on personal topics such as abortion, then stunned the crowd by ranting about abolitionist Harriet Tugman’s illegitimacy as a savior of slaves during the Civil War.
No surprise, the media reacted like starving sharks being tossed bloody chum. Watching a well-known figure experience a complete breakdown in real time was entertainment at its best. Across social media, Kanye haters subsequently took exception to him labeling Kim a white supremacist, while claiming he was soon to divorce her. Others, just had a great laugh over the name of his newly formed political entity: the birthday party.
What few immediately acknowledged was the tragedy of this situation. This man, fan of his or not, was mentally decompensating in a very public fashion.
It is well understood that Kanye has struggled with bipolar disease, previously known as manic depression, for years. This psychiatric illness is treacherous and insidious. It is defined by intense highs, also known as mania and painful lows, which can lead to suicide.
Although pharmaceutical intervention and therapy can allow a person to lead a normal life, it is not that easy. A very real component of the disease is that once normality is achieved, the medication is often rejected. Patients get a false sense of security that they are “cured” and no longer require pharmaceuticals.
Kanye is no different. In 2019, he told David Lettermen that he went off medication because it caused him to gain weight and impaired his creativity.
There are two critical takeaways when we witness a celebrity implode. First, these are people in the public eye; unseen are the millions of those suffering from bipolar disease right now. Like Kanye, these people need to be understood and treated because they are mentally ill. They deserve sympathy and compassion, not scorn or mockery.
Hopefully as a society we do not routinely stigmatize or laugh at, for example, people confined to wheelchairs. They did not choose this for their lives. Similarly, no one elects to have a psychiatric disorder.
And second, it points out the absolute necessity for early and comprehensive therapeutic intervention . At SunCloud Health, we want patients to admit to our care as early in their disease as possible. Catching and treating any disorder or addiction quickly provides the best chance for real recovery.