What Kanye’s experiences teach us about mental illness during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
* * * Trigger Warning: * * *
Self-harm, suicide, suicidal thoughts, suicide prevention
As someone who fights bipolar disorder every day, I feel compelled to address the situation surrounding Kanye West. Since Kanye is a celebrity, the world is watching his downward spiral in all of its horrid detail.
If you’re not aware, Kanye West has bipolar disorder. Watching Kanye’s journey in the news, my heart goes out to him and his family.
I don’t know Kanye personally and am not a mental health professional, but as a fellow mental illness warrior, I know what he’s fighting.
Bipolar disorder can be a rabid beast living inside of you. It’s best known for its extreme episodes of mania or depression. The highs make you feel invincible. The lows can conjure incessant voices telling you to end everything.
Most of us with bipolar disorder spend the bulk of our days somewhere between the two extreme poles. We hold down jobs, take care of our families, and volunteer in our communities. The truth about bipolar is more positive than what we frequently see on our screens.
Watching Kanye’s dangerous adventure in the headlines makes my heart hurt for him. Knowing how my bipolar has progressed over the years makes me afraid for what comes next for him. It has also reminded me of a few important truths about living with bipolar disorder. This story discusses some of them.
Mental illness affects much more than the warrior diagnosed with it. Often, family and friends suffer in frustration because of how little they can do to help the one struggling.
Kanye’s wife, Kim Kardashian, rarely addresses his mental health in a public forum. She spoke out briefly in late July and again a few days ago.
It touched my soul to see the way Kim broached the subject in this week’s social media post. It conveyed both the seriousness of what is happening with Kanye, while also describing the frustration caregivers experience while a loved one is spiraling.
This collateral damage to caregivers is hard for the patient to see while in a bipolar episode. Bipolar can turn your life into a swirling haze around you. It can steal your emotions and make you impervious to any suffering you may be causing.
Pain on Both Sides
Having been both the patient and the caregiver, I can tell you both sides are painful. I believe Kim has explored all her options to help Kanye. Now, she must watch in concern as we do.
Legal limitations prevent caregivers from forcing a loved one into treatment. In the past, it was easier to have the unstable person confined to a hospital. Abuse of this option required new laws to protect healthy individuals from being unnecessarily confined to a psychiatric hospital. Today, the family is powerless unless the patient is an imminent danger to himself or others.
It’s up to Kanye to accept the help he needs. His family will be in anguish until he does.
Yet, the news giants prefer he stays as he is because it’s more profitable for them. They put more value on ratings than Kanye’s health and completely block out the subject of suicide prevention. This lack of empathy is creating more problems.
News Media Creates Stigma
If Kanye were any other man, we wouldn’t see the effects of mental illness. His impulsive and self-destructive acts would be secret.
Kanye West is a name that causes videos to go viral and headlines to receive millions of clicks. It overjoys the news giants to follow Kanye around the country because they know his stories will bring in large audiences.
The news media loves the chaos and has pounced upon every opportunity to publish it. While what Kanye is suffering is reality, the media’s instinct to sensationalize it is increasing the stigmas around bipolar disorder.
By broadcasting Kanye’s actions, the media is forcing others to hide their own mental illnesses. Men already struggle to disclose mental health issues. The negative portrayal of Kanye increases this hurdle.
This trend must stop.
Kanye said he is running for president, so some news coverage makes sense. The press should cover any presidential run.
However, in this case, the stories coming out are much darker. Online trolls and unscrupulous journalists use Kanye as a punchline and stoke the flames of mental illness stigmas.
No one believes Kanye will be president. His name will probably only show up on ballots in 11 states. It’s unlikely that he’s a true contender.
Yet, by insisting on chronicling every one of his actions, the news is feeding into his delusion. It’s also portraying people with bipolar disorder as being untreatable, laughable, and incapable of being productive members of society.
Mental illness is being touted as a weakness which further builds dangerous stigmas. Stigmas have to change to work together for suicide prevention.
The truth is, most people with bipolar disorder rarely act out in such extreme ways. When I was at my worst, I still fought to hide the bad things in my head. Social media did not chronicle any of it. I’m elated I survived and continue to fight.
Kayne deserves the time he needs to deal with his illness without input from the media. The goal should be to decrease stigmas so more people seek treatment.
The increase in stigma is unacceptable, but bipolar mania has a close companion that’s even more dangerous.
Mania has a Price
Kanye appears to be in a manic cycle. In his mind, he believes he will be the president-elect in November.
Bipolar mania makes you believe you can do anything. It’s like having a genie. Anything you can imagine, you can wish into reality.
Except you can’t.
Reality and manic episodes rarely exist at the same time. The high is also dangerous because mania never comes without its evil twin, bipolar depression.
I fear what will happen in November when Kanye finds out he was unsuccessful. The shock to his delusional reality could fling him into a dangerous darkness. Submerged in a world of muted grays, bipolar may tell him suicide is a valid option.
It’s never the right choice.
It’s imperative Kanye gets the help he needs now. Bipolar depression can move in like the flip of a switch. I pray he listens to his family and accepts the help he needs.
Kanye may already be in the darkness. After years of living with his illness, he no doubt knows how to hide the warning signs. The people close to him need to be on high alert to stop him from self-harm.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s always a month of introspection for me.
On one side, I remember how many of my friends fell victim to its wicked grasp. Conversely, I have a decades-long history of suicidal ideation.
You might imagine suicidal behavior as what you see in movies. Perhaps you envision the deep depression, the self-destructive behavior, and the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
In reality, many at-risk people display none of these outward signs. Tragedy often blindsides family and friends because the lost one appeared stable.
In fact, the times I was closest to death, I was still going out with friends, smiling, and telling jokes, while planning to off myself later in the evening. When I was hospitalized, most of my friends were shocked.
I’m blessed to still be alive. Still, the darkness wages war with me year after year. It reminds me how important suicide prevention should be.
Knowing what I experienced makes me worry about Kanye. I know his struggle. I know the feelings of invincibility, the belief you can accomplish anything.
I also know the dark side. The endless possibilities of mania always fade in time and usher in its sinister partner, bipolar depression. The hopelessness inspired by this depressive state is soul crushing.
Kanye may stay manic for a long time, but his depressive cycle is coming. It’s a scary reality that those close to him should prepare to handle.
You Can Help
There’s nothing I can do to help Kanye, and unless you know him personally, neither can you. However, there are things we can do for our loved ones.
Whether or not you battle mental illness yourself, all of us know someone who is wrestling this enemy. Friends, family, workmates – those struggling with mental illness are in your circle.
If a loved one is suffering, try to be there for them. Listen to their anxieties without judgement. Make yourself available to be the support they need.
For those enduring suicidal thoughts, a no-suicide contract may help. It will at least get the conversation started.
There are many suicide prevention organizations available (listed below) to provide the support required.
Hold on to Hope
Hope is essential for living a quality life. It’s even more vital for those of us with mental illness.
Kanye’s hopes right now might include winning the most powerful office in the world, but it’s unlikely to happen. I hope Kanye will see reality and fight for his mental health. A new hope for better future days can keep him going.
Standing on a solid footing, he has the perfect platform to educate millions about bipolar and other mental illnesses. His success would show the world what’s possible.
You also must hold on to hope. Seek professional help to improve your mental health. Proper treatment can heal both the patient and their caregivers.
In conclusion, one of my favorite quotes is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The nearer the dawn, the darker the night.”
Things may be dark, but that means dawn is so much closer. Hold on to hope. You will find the light again. Dawn will bring the sun and brighten another day.
Until next time… Keep fighting.
Resources for Suicide Prevention
Chat option available
Telephone: 1.833.456.4566 – Available 24/7
Text: 45645 – Available Daily 4pm-12am ET
Chat option available
Text: HOME to 686868 in Canada to text with a trained Crisis Responder.
Samaritans – 24/7, toll-free crisis line, as well as local branches.
Telephone: 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably – It has a limited-hour phone and webchat options every day from 5 PM to midnight.
Telephone: 0800 58 58 58
Your life is valuable. If your country is not listed, do an internet search for “suicide hotline” in your country.