It seems everyone has heard about and has had something to say about Kanye West’s or Ye as he is now known, recent statements and behavior. You either love him or hate him. I am deeply concerned about his wellness. His comments often strike a nerve and leave listeners enraged or either more supportive of his musings on sensitive cultural topics such as slavery, the holocaust, or Taylor Swift’s creative value compared to Beyoncé’s among a myriad of other things. He seems to exist in the current culture as a cross between a pariah and a cult leader. He has acknowledged himself as a genius, like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Mozart to name a few. Whether you believe that to be true or not is not important.
What is important to this discussion is that he has also acknowledged that one of his doctors has diagnosed him as Bipolar. This is a psychiatric condition in which patients exhibit both intense manic and depressive episodes often along with other psychotic features. I’m a photographer and filmmaker who usually enjoys being behind the camera. But as a black man who has struggled with bipolar disorder for over 30 years, I think I can provide some insight, as it would be constructive to examine Ye’s behavior through a bipolar lens.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes Bipolar disorders as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. It includes three types of conditions: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. I’m not a physician or a clinician and can not speak to Ye’s psychiatric well-being as such. I can only comment based on my own experiences and what similarities I see since we both have the same diagnosis. I was first diagnosed roughly 32 years ago when I was 19. I was a business major at Drexel University back home in Baltimore for a co-op internship semester break and my entire world unraveled. It has been a journey of triumphs and tragedies but I have made it through and am still thriving. Though at times, I was barely surviving.
Bipolar I disorder is a manic-depressive disorder that can exist both with and without psychotic episodes. Bipolar II is described as consisting of depressive and manic episodes which alternate and are typically less severe and do not inhibit function. Cyclothymic disorder is a cyclic disorder that causes brief episodes of hypomania and depression. I have moved through all three and it seems I was bipolar II when I was younger and migrated into bipolar I as I age with episodes of cyclothymia. But this is a patient’s interpretation, not a clinical assessment. So when I see people enraged and triggered by Ye’s behavior and comments, I forget that we are not physicians or clinicians. We don’t understand. In all honesty, Ye’s seems to be without an effective treatment plan. And the people around him seem to be more interested in exploiting his ability to capture news headlines than making sure his wellness is a top priority. With that said, I have to acknowledge that Ye has to be willing to accept help which may or may not be a struggle.
I think that if we take Ye’s diagnosis seriously then we must pause before making a judgment and consider that he is an individual suffering from mental illness and may be in an acute episode that is causing him to make certain statements. I know because I’ve done the same thing. In summary, I guess what I’m trying to say is that words matter, and in Kanye’s case his situation could use some compassion, sensitivity, and love. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health resources, contact the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) at nami.org or 800-950-6264. Or if you or someone you know is thinking of harming themselves call the Suicide Hotline (800) 273-8255.
For more information: https://www.psycom.net/bipolar-definition-dsm-5