This week all of my social feeds had some mention of Kanye’s bid for candidacy in the 2020 Presidential Election. I will admit that when I first heard this, it made me angry. Right now is not the time for celebrity stunts, and his MAGA hat-wearing self needed to have several seats as far as I was concerned. I decided to take the announcement with a grain of salt, knowing there is no way he’s jumping in a race that ends in less than four months, liked a couple of posts with people suggesting his “running mate” and moved on with my life. That is until I heard about the tweets. That’s when it clicked in my mind that he is clearly not on his meds and is having a massive manic episode, something that is the defining characteristic of Bipolar disorder. But instead of people sending messages of comfort and hoping for him to get better, people continued to share memes and crack jokes. Mental illness is not a joke.
So what is Bipolar disorder, outside of a condition that affects almost 3% of our population? I thought of spelling it out, but we all know I’m about getting to the point and moving on, so check out the one-minute video below from NAMI that explains bipolar disorder in the simplest way possible:
When it comes to mental illness, Bipolar disorder is one that is severely misunderstood. Mental illness as a whole is something that is not talked about in our community, which is crazy to me because, considering the statistics, we are more likely to suffer without treatment from it. 16.2% of the 47.6 million people that suffered from mental illness in 2018 were non-Hispanic Black or African American. And it isn’t only us grown-ups who experience mental illness, our children do as well. Think about the story of “Grace” who is still incarcerated because the judge believes that’s what is best for her and instead of people rallying to get this child the help she needs, all they can do is regurgitate her behavior issues and how her mother is the one who called the authorities.
Well, what would you do if all of your life you were told that when your kid acts out it’s a disciplinary issue and you live within a community that doesn’t address mental health? There are so many ways we are failed when it comes to access to mental healthcare and many Black people are never properly diagnosed with mental illness. It’s no wonder some of us still don’t think therapy is of any real use because most of us grew up with going to therapy not being a normalized thing. So let’s start normalizing it by talking about what happened with Kanye.
No one knows exactly what causes Bipolar disorder, but causes may include things like your brain chemistry, genetics, drug and alcohol abuse, and stressful/disturbing events. Think about that last one, stressful/disturbing events. Now I want you to remember Through the Wire, where he talked about how he thought he would die from a car accident LITERALLY THROUGH HIS MOUTH BEING WIRED SHUT. Now, remember his mom’s sudden death, the one person he loved more than anyone else in the world taken away from him in a tragic and unnecessary way.
“Some of the comments and jokes I keep seeing are part of the reason there continues to be a stigma around mental health and mental illness, and why some people would rather suffer in silence than to speak up.”Kia Wilkinson- Holloway, MS, LPC, mom, and owner of Imani Counseling Services
It didn’t shock me when Kanye admitted to having Bipolar disorder. Hell, even Jennifer Lewis, our Black mom in Hollywood, is open about her struggles with Bipolar disorder. What shocks me is how people react when he is clearly going through a manic episode by shaming him and saying his family is the reason why he is so sick. The video below was uploaded in July of 2019, I encourage you to watch it. Don’t worry, the part I want you to watch is already queued up and is less than a minute (you’ll know what I mean when you watch it). Then I want you to rethink how you judge people dealing with mental illness.
Full disclosure here: I have Complex PTSD and deal with anxiety every single day. EVERYDAY. So much so I’ve developed fibromyalgia because my body is constantly in fight or flight mode. People tend to expect me to be “on” and happy, I get it, I’m a happy person in general in spite of all the shit life has thrown at me. But I’ve also had a nervous breakdown on my birthday – what was up until then the happiest day in the world for me – and had to be medicated and ordered to therapy. Now it is a reminder of how far I’ve come since that day. My good friend Charlene said to me, “We don’t make fun of people that are physically sick,” and she’s right. So the next time you see a celeb in the news and they are struggling with mental illness, instead of passing a meme or doing the name-calling, think about the fact that your girl was almost committed. Is that funny to you? Because if it is, you may need to seek therapy and do some self-reflection. Here are some resources for you boo: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).