Kanye West and the Issue of Trivializing Mental Illness

Today, Kanye West dropped his eighth studio album, simply entitled Ye.

This release comes hot off the heels of Twitter outbursts, controversial Trump support and years of “is he ‘crazy’ or is he a genius?” speculation and rumors. In typical Kanye fashion, his album surprise dropped with a simple picture of mountains in Wyoming that he supposedly took on the way to the album listening party yesterday with the phrase, “I hate being bipolar it’s awesome.” This phrase is ripped from a mildly popular shirt that came under scrutiny a few years ago and got the likes of Target in trouble for trivializing mental health as a sales tactic. You can read more here.

Upon listening, you immediately realize that this album has a tactic behind it. Kanye is trying to further the conversation about his mental health which should be nothing short of admirable. However, his converstaion points instead come across as forced, phony and downright offensive at times. For example, on the second track, Yikes, Kanye explains “That’s my third party, that’s my bipolar shit. That’s my super power, ain’t no disability.” Which, to be fair, doesn’t actually sound like bipolar but instead schizophrenia. This confusion of mental illnesses is a huge red flag into someone not understanding the differences between disorders.

In all honesty, this doesn’t seem like a man suffering from bipolar or schizophrenia. In fact, it sounds like a man struggling with egomania, which is commonly confused for other disorders but showcases itself with an obsession with oneself and abundant narcissism. This coupled with the fact that he’s talking about murder AND suicide in the same sentence is alarming and a little surprising to be using in such a light context. Labeling Ye as an egomaniac instead of self-proclaimed bipolar also explains his Trump support in recent weeks. He sees Trump, the only other man in history that has been able to push himself as a brand to a higher position than himself, and immediately begins talking about how he wants to run for President. It’s idolizing ego, rather than true purpose.

Now, if Ye is experiencing diagnosed bipolar disorder and/or suicidal thoughts, the way Kanye marginalizes and markets mental illness minimizes those of us actually experiencing mental illness in any capacity. The way he floats in between accepting his mental health and using it as a marketing ploy isn’t “cute” or “cheeky,” it’s dangerous. It teaches young rap fans that mental health isn’t a serious issue and it’s only for making jokes about or using for media hits and press. This is especially confusing since Kanye’s close friend and collaborator, Kid Cudi is outspoken about his battles with depression and has become a sort-of pseudo mental health advocate without formally accepting the mantle.

Furthermore, on the first track, Kanye repeatedly says “If I was trying to relate it to more people, I’d probably say I’m struggling with loving myself because that seems like a common theme, but that’s not the case here. I love myself way more than I love you. And I think about killing myself.” This line especially proves the egomania disorder rather than bipolar and or other mental illness. Without the proper education and/or learnings, Kanye is doomed to keep repeating this misinformation about himself which in turn confuses those that actually have mental illness and/or bipolar and people’s understanding of the illness.

The danger in Kanye trying to tell the masses he has one form of mental illness without properly being diagnosed is that he furthers the stigma of mental disorders. The stigma that it’s better to self medicate and self-evaluate rather than seeing a professional. We can’t progress in this nation without evaluating how we talk about mental health in this culture of glorifying pop culture and icons.

This article from Newsweek states that “revealing his diagnosis, he joins the likes of stars like Demi Lovato and Mariah Carey who have also shared their experience with the disorder.” This is especially alarming because Demi is an outspoken advocate who has documented her progress with professionals and at another caliber of progress than Kanye’s method of using his music as a journal to the detriment of his listeners. Once the media understands mental health at a better level, then we can report better on those actually utilizing their platform for good rather than ego-driven ways or self-promotion.

Mental health is not a marketing tactic. 

-Ryan Brunty