Health Conditions

Kanye West’s outlandish statements may be a problem. Mental health stigma is a bigger one

Good afternoon, readers.

I’m already hearing the groans in my head but this is a personal one. Let’s spend a moment to talk about Kanye West and how we talk about mental health.

The hip hop mogul has a well-established, and self-inflicted, reputation for stirring the pot and can be downright diabolical in the ways he seeks attention. Some of his most audacious stunts—such as becoming one of President Donald Trump’s prominent Black supporters before breaking with him and announcing a 2020 presidential run as an independent—have a weird tendency to coincide with album releases. West and his family have openly spoken about his struggles with bipolar disorder.

West, and his wife Kim Kardashian West, have been in the news lately after the rapper sent out a slew of often incoherent tweets about their relationship and his announced presidential bid.

Kardashian issued a statement via her Instagram supporting her husband. And while it’s easy to roll our eyes at a rich, famous, often bombastic couple, the stigma she speaks of is borne by millions of Americans far less fortunate than they are. All the money in the world can’t eliminate a mental illness or reduce the burden it has on a family.

“As many of you know, Kanye has bipolar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand,” Kardashian wrote. “I’ve never spoken publicly about how this has affected us at home because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health. But today, I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health.”

Everyone is free to have their own opinions about West’s behavior and speculate on motivations. But I’d still urge a dose of charity when it comes to matters of mental health, no matter who the vessel.

I’ve had experiences with my own family members on mental health issues. I’m sure many readers have as well—one in five Americans suffers from a mental illness, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It took until 2008 for the U.S. to pass the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was the first time that federal law made it illegal to treat mental health and physical health benefits by different standards. (Enforcement, however, has still been inconsistent, and mental health care can be extremely difficult to obtain for the average American, and particularly for minorities.)

And beyond those policy issues, there’s the matter of how we frame these issues, and the very real practical effects that attitudes about mental health can have on patients.

“People with lived experience of a mental illness commonly report feeling devalued, dismissed, and dehumanized by many of the health professionals with whom they come into contact,” according to one NIH-published study on mental health stigma from 2017.

“Key themes include feeling excluded from decisions, receiving subtle or overt threats of coercive treatment, being made to wait excessively long when seeking help, being given insufficient information about one’s condition or treatment options, being treated in a paternalistic or demeaning manner, being told they would never get well, and being spoken to or about using stigmatizing language.”

That’s the kind of underlying stigma that can prevent people from seeking care in the first place (and often does, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness). The thought of being locked up and institutionalized, not to mention ostracized, wouldn’t be a fun feeling for anyone. That’s true irrespective of your lot in life and inevitably gets amplified the lower you are on the socioeconomic ladder.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee
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