It may sound crazy, but we shouldn’t be calling Kanye West crazy. After being placed on a 5150 hold (an involuntary psychiatric hold) at UCLA Medical Center and then released into an outpatient facility, people have taken to social media to label him as crazy. The day Kanye was admitted to the hospital, I even heard a Los Angeles radio DJ introduce the next song by saying, “No Kanye joke, but this is Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.” Despite Kanye’s antics through the years, labeling him as crazy during a period of mental crisis is irresponsible and disrespectful to everyone who lives with mental illness. Instead of placing Kanye under the blanket of insanity, we should let our compassion speak louder than our judgement. Judgement that continues to perpetuate a devastating stigma around mental illness.
As someone with bipolar disorder and someone who spent time in the hospital in late 2008 because of it, I’ve experienced the stigma and judgment that goes along with mental illness. Every time someone finds out about my bipolar disorder, a look of fear comes across their face. They ask, “Are you going to be okay?” However, what they’re really asking is, “Am I going to be okay?” Unfortunately bipolar in particular has become synonymous with crazy and dangerous. I’ve been called crazy and have listened as my own friends refer to people they believe to be difficult as bipolar. These labels and judgments are powerful and create a sense of shame for those with mental health conditions. For me, the shame I’ve felt about my mental illness and the judgment I’ve received from others, caused me to retreat into solitude. I just wanted to be normal because at the time, I didn’t understand that there is no such ting as normal. I thought I was a problem. And at my lowest point, I thought that the world would be a better place without me in it. (According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Bipolar disorder results in 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder completes suicide.”)
As much as some people would like to believe that Kanye West doesn’t have a big influence in society, he does. Kanye has 26.5 million followers and married into one of the most famous families in America, the Kardashians. Whether you like it or not, he is relevant. His influence is powerful, and so are the words associated with him.You don’t have to like Kanye to have empathy for his situation. You don’t have to like Kanye to understand that how we react to his mental health condition is going to influence how our kids understand and react to mental illness. Whether you think he’s a genius or a jerk is up to you, but judging him based on conditions he cannot control is especially irresponsible to his younger audience. De-stigmatizing mental illness should be the goal, not perpetuating it. And we can start by doing something as simple as removing the term crazy when discussing mental health.
Labeling someone as crazy is a death sentence to a person’s reputation. Comedian Dave Chappelle has been very vocal about using the term crazy after having his own sanity called into question when his Chappelle’s Show went off the air. According to Chappelle, “The worst thing to call somebody is crazy, it’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy. That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy, they’re strong people. Maybe the environment is a little sick.”
We did the same thing to Britney Spears in 2007, when she went through a very public breakdown. She was immediately labeled as crazy by magazines, bloggers and news outlets. Despite it being almost 10 years later, that label still follows her.
Instead of dismissing Kanye, we should use his experience as a teaching tool. The lesson can be that no matter how famous, rich or powerful you become, mental illness doesn’t care. It doesn’t discriminate. It’s not fair. Having a mental health condition doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you are bad, unwanted, or a problem. Mental illness doesn’t define you.
Kanye West isn’t crazy. Kanye is a human being in an emotional crisis that deserves our humanity.
In the words of the great Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” So let’s not make it more difficult for each other.