Seattle — As someone who was raised by a loved one with mental disorders, I was disappointed by how society reacted when Kanye’s bipolar disorder showed up as several erratic posts on social media. Growing up, I was told to never discuss mental health due to the stigma it holds. I didn’t know why it was such a taboo, but seeing how people reacted to Kanye’s episode made me grateful to have never discussed this matter publicly.
In the past few years, I’ve seen mental illnesses like anxiety and depression become less stigmatized at the expense of mental disorders like bipolar, personality disorder and schizophrenia. It’s as if the normalization of certain mental illnesses has shrunken our view of what mental illness and disorders look like. Kanye West’s recent public breakdown was a reminder of how far we truly are from creating safe environments for people with mental disorders. While this realization stung, there are a few things I want us to consider in mental health conversations going forward.
It's not a laughing matter.
The side effects of social media include making everything a meme and trying to go viral for hilarious takes on current affairs. Kanye live-tweeting his manic episode should not have become a time for folks to question, make fun of or critique him. This would’ve been a good time to learn more about the disorder. I witnessed so many social media posts where people blamed Kanye for his mental disorder, when in reality people with bipolar disorder don’t have control over their episodes. We must educate ourselves and understand everything isn't meant to be a joke, especially at the expense of extending compassion and understanding.
Don't blame the family.
When people were not blaming Kanye for having a mental disorder, they were blaming his family. Can you imagine having cancer, not being in control of it but everyone blaming your immediate family? We need to start viewing physical and mental health as equally important. Kim Kardashian wrote a statement asking for compassion for her family. She also discussed how unless the individual is a minor, the family has little to no control. It was so frustrating to see folks critiquing the family without having a basic understanding of what they were dealing with.
As a child, I remember being at the hospital trying to protect and assist my loved one with their episodes. I cannot imagine being blamed or targeted during those tough times. We must research and understand the mental health policies and laws in our country before vilifying the families that are trying their best.
We're not all health professionals.
As information has become more accessible through technology, we’ve become a super solution-oriented society. We constantly see big issues and discuss them like we’re experts. I’m guilty of this. If you ask me about how I would deal with COVID-19, I could talk to you for hours although I’m not a public health expert.
In the Muslim community, we have a tendency to question the individual's spirituality, in an attempt to come to terms with their disorder or illness. And it isn’t uncommon to have a random aunty calling your family, claiming to have the cure. Telling an individual or their family how to get better without any expertise is harmful and disrespectful. It’s beyond insensitive to risk a human life based on conspiracies you created. In Kanye’s case, many people were telling him to take certain medications or to see specific doctors. There are at least as many ways for a mental illness to take shape as there are people on this earth. Unless you’re a licensed health professional, don’t tell others what to do.
When it comes to mental health, we often overlook the true meaning of being accepting. In her statement, Kim Kardashian reminded us Kanye is and will always be a creative genius and having bipolar disorder doesn’t change that. Sometimes we find out someone we know has a mental disorder and we struggle to accept it. We make environments awkward and uncomfortable for them. The true meaning of acceptance is adapting and customizing the world for others. Currently, we act like accepting an individual either means giving up a treasured possession or taking on a burden.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy anxiety and depression are less stigmatized. I just know we have ample room to grow when it comes to broadening our narrow approaches to big and often unwieldy conversations about mental health. Next time you try to blame families or spread conspiracy theories, please remember the damage you’re doing and know that you can do better.