Since his conflict with Taylor Swift at MTV’s Music Video Awards in 2009, the world has seen Ye—the rapper formerly known as Kanye West—become a spectacle of controversy.
After coming out with his bipolar diagnosis in 2018, however, there seemed to be more meaningful and genuine conversation regarding mental illness—until there wasn’t. In a 2019 interview with David Letterman, Ye opened up about his mental health struggles and dealing with bipolar disorder in a way he hadn’t before. However, in his most recent antics surrounding his divorce from Kim Kardashian, the overwhelming public response to a string of social media posts have shown that the stigma around mental illness still persists, and there is much more to be done to eradicate the toxicity within conversations about mental illness, especially when it comes to celebrities.
From his public feud with Taylor Swift to his self-proclaimed presidential candidacy, Ye has deserved the vast majority of the public criticism he received. However, people fail to recognize the harmful nature of the comments that blatantly generalize and demonize his mental illness. These comments lead to further stigmatization of complex mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.
Following his divorce from Kim Kardashian, the star has been very active on social media, begging for Kardashian to bring their family back together, while cursing her name in the same breath. He also continues to harass Pete Davidson, who is in a relationship with Kardashian following her and Ye’s divorce. In the music video for his song “Eazy,” Ye depicts Davidson being kidnapped and buried. Additionally, after speaking out in support of Kardashian, Ye called “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah a racial slur, which resulted in his 24-hour ban from Instagram.
Many speculate that Ye is experiencing a mental health crisis; however, that assumption is not for the public to make. In fact, the main problem with this situation as a whole lies in the public’s response to Ye’s actions. Fans are quick to excuse his behavior under the assumption that he is manic. Critics joke that the rapper is “off his meds” and mock him in the form of memes and vile tweets, which is detrimental to those who have bipolar disorder.
Even Ye himself has been outspoken about his diagnosis and the stigma surrounding it. In an interview with People, he said, “It’s a health issue that has a strong stigma on it and people are allowed to say anything about it and discriminate in any way.”
However, this is not the case, nor is it fair to permit people who are bipolar to be subject to such treatment. Ye has created real and raw conversation regarding mental illness and the reality of living with bipolar disorder. The generalization of bipolar disorder and insensitive comments being made in response to an extremely public affair is damaging to those struggling with the mental illness.
Bipolar disorder can be characterized by the experience of extremely elated periods followed by low bouts of depressive symptoms. “Highs,” or manic episodes, are marked by impulsivity and grandiosity, and “lows,” or depressive episodes, are often accompanied by feelings of emptiness or hopelessness.
According to Emmie Pombo from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Bipolar disorder is a complicated mental illness. It has a variety of layers and symptoms, which can make it difficult to understand.”
Unfortunately, inaccurate pictures of bipolar disorder have plagued public opinion for far too long. The media has played a massive role in this, characterizing people with this illness as “dangerous” and “crazy.” For instance, television shows like “Homeland” tend to portray people with bipolar disorder and other complex mental illnesses as the culprits of serious crimes like homicide, rather than the victims, which is commonly the case.
Clinical psychologist and chair of the UMW psychology department Dr. Miriam Liss said, “Bipolar disorder is marked by instability and disruptive regulation of mood. It has nothing to do with moral character.”
Harassment and abuse are not bipolar disorder and should stop being viewed as interchangeable, especially in Ye’s case. What he is doing to Kardashian, Davidson and Noah should not be excused due to his mental illness, and his mental illness should not be blamed for his actions.
This stigma exists in both the media and the general public. “People use the word ‘bipolar’ as an adjective casually whenever anyone is exhibiting traits that are out of the norm,” said Liss. “Many people can have normal mood fluctuations and not meet the diagnostic criteria.”
She continued, “It often hurts the person who has it. It’s important to know that bipolar disorder is a real disorder that people suffer with and can be treated.”
It is time to stop using mental illness as a tool for public entertainment and uninformed commentary. In taking sides during a situation like this, we put mental health awareness on the backburner in favor of a laugh. Mental illnesses need to be taken seriously, especially when those who suffer from them are in the public eye, as the way we react to their mental health sets a precedent for how we react to mental illness as a whole.