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Why does public concern for mental health dissipate in the case of Kanye West?

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“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. It appears that there are a lot of saints when it comes to criticism of Kanye West. Granted, the ‘we all make mistakes’ rhetoric may appear a weak defence of his penchant for ludicrous antics. Nevertheless, its validity is only fortified by scientific evidence that confirms his erratic behaviour to be a typical trait of bipolar disorder. This reality is overlooked by the vast majority. Why?  

Perhaps because it is simpler to choose ignorance over understanding, shame over support. Ridicule comes easier than sympathy for most, resulting in abuse laced with hypocrisy. In a world that prides itself on acceptance, celebrities’ mental health is often left unconsidered. Actions are seen as warped by the intoxication of fame, and we forget our shared humanity. Kanye is not the sole sufferer of this fate, and yet, as an extremely high-profile example of the issue at hand, offers a medium through which to explore it. 

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million Americans annually, which amounts to 2.6% of the US population aged 18 and over. The UK offers similar figures, with around 1.3 million afflicted residents. Despite being so widespread, it remains stigmatised in the global community. Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, outlined the importance of setting a precedent regarding our attitude towards celebrities’ mental illnesses, writing “one must think about all of the other people in the world who may be struggling with similar sorts of issues and think about what it means for those problems to be dragged up in the public eye”. The way in which the media have exacerbated West’s struggle will inevitably have a domino effect on the confidence of people with bipolar disorder throughout the world, diminishing their capacity to be comfortable in their own skin. By partaking in insensitive commentary on his actions, the public actively discourages people from that which individualizesy, and only serves to consolidate the stigma against outspoken sufferers of various disorders. 

The current situation with West is eerily similar to that of Britney Spears in the late noughties. Treated as a joke by many, subjected to tabloid rumour, brutally berated by the media, she spiralled out of control, and is now the victim of an implacable conservatorship helmed by her own father. The ‘Free Britney’ movement has taken the world by storm, as an unabashedly guiltless public fights to quell a storm that their insensitivity precipitated. It is in human nature to favour retrospective action over foresight. The immortal maxim has never been more relevant: those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  

This article by no means is an attempt to absolve Kanye of all wrongdoing. Its intention is to raise the discussion as to why many believe that, simply because he is famous, they have free rein to deride and ridicule him, deliberately ignorant of consequences of such callousness. 

The reason why West’s behavioural tendencies, undeniably wayward at times, are still met with fervent disapproval is because, quite simply, the world still cannot fully comprehend the true severity of the effects that mental illness can inflict upon an individual. Disease of the mind can shackle one’s capacity for reason to such an extent that their sense of self is completely warped, resulting in consequences entirely unintended to the sufferer. Western society parades itself as a paragon of acceptance, a haven for those previously marginalized, a welcoming environment for the outcasts and strugglers. And yet, when a – black – man consistently exposed to the harsh limelight of modern media, embraces the repercussion of his own eccentricity, he is mercilessly lambasted. This highlights a sombre reality of our time, a reality that refuses to acknowledge mental health with the same gravity with which physical health is acknowledged. This truth is all the more palpable regarding the treatment of celebrities. As a global community, it is our responsibility to be more forgiving, and retain in our minds the importance of sympathy. Kanye’s mental health disorder should not be the brunt of a joke, but the incentive for societal change. Only through such acceptance can we prove that mental health is truly considered with the level of empathy that it should. 

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