by Mica Anthony on August 10, 2020

From his most recent project Jesus is King , an ode to his recommittal to Christianity, to wearing MAGA hats in support of Trump, to infamously slamming his ex, Amber Rose, when he said he “had to take 30 showers before he got with Kim,” Kanye West has never been afraid of controversy or being disliked. Ye has been open about his bipolar disorder since he was diagnosed in 2016 when he was in his late 30s. But when we witnessed Ye’s Twitter tirade which saw him post a string of seemingly chaotic and offensive tweets, the internet was quick to vilify West and throw harsh criticism without much nuance or understanding of where his words might have been coming from.

So what is Bipolar disorder?

Formerly known as manic depression, Bipolar disorder, according to the NHS is “Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. “ Those two moods include depression - feeling lethargic, experiencing low mood and even feeling suicidal – and mania, where a person can feel very high, ambitious and be in an overactive state. These extreme states can last up to several weeks.

The disorder is in fact quite common, with one in 100 people diagnosed with it at some point in their lives, and while it usually develops between the ages of 15 and 19, it can develop at any age in life and affect men and women from all backgrounds. The condition is typically episodic rather than persistent, so it’s not unusual for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder to go about their daily lives managing work, relationships, and raising families.

As problematic as she may be, Kim’s statement on Instagram imploring people to be more empathetic and understanding hit the nail on the head when it comes to how the internet reacted to West’s episode, and how we still have a long way to go when discussing mental health issues:

“I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. ... Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words sometimes do not align with his intentions. 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.” Kim reminds us to take a step back and really think before getting those Twitter-fingers ready to mock, criticise, or post a hot take online.

This doesn’t rid Kanye of any accountability – some of what he said was very harmful, anti-black, misogynistic, and Kanye will need to address this when he’s in a fit state to do so.  But as a society, when we can quite clearly see that somebody (who has already been very open about their experiences with mental health) is struggling, taking a more nuanced approach and educating ourselves is key in these kinds of situations.

Statistics about mental health in the UK:

  • 1 in 6 people each week experience a common mental health problem [Mental Health Foundation]
  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England [Mind]
  • only 1 in 8 adults with a mental health problem are currently getting any kind of treatment.  [Mind]
  • 23% of Black or Black British people will experience a common mental health problem in any given week. This compares to 17% of White British people [Mind]
  • Black and minority ethnic people are less likely to be referred to talking therapies and more likely to be medicated for ill mental health. [Race Equality Foundation UK]

Mental health is slowly becoming less taboo to talk about, but we still have a way to go in how we understand and react to those going through it. Let this be a lesson to us all to take a step back and think about what others are going through before we judge or react.


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