Amid a flurry of controversial and racist statements from Kanye West, people with bipolar disorder are making clear they don’t want West as their poster child.
After West, who legally changed his name to Ye, recently threatened Jewish people on Twitter, his business partners such as Adidas, Balenciaga and Gap ended their collaborations with the artist. Ye’s actions also spurred many people to blame his offensive statements on his medical condition.
But, as people who suffer from bipolar disorder and experts say, the condition doesn’t make you racist.
Professor Amy Elizabeth West, who teaches clinical pediatrics and psychology at USC Keck School of Medicine, said that associating bipolar disorder to hate is dangerous and misinformed.
“Bipolar disorder is absolutely not synonymous with racism and there’s nothing about mental illness that creates racism or hate,” she said. “Those are all entirely separate behaviors that he happens to have in addition to having bipolar disorder.”
Ye was transparent about suffering from bipolar disorder after being admitted to a hospital in 2016. The album cover of his 2018 album “Ye” shows a mountain with hand-written text that says, “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome.”
Ye previously sparked outrage numerous times, like when he claimed in a 2018 TMZ interview that “slavery was a choice.” He has also recently made inflammatory statements about Geroge Floyd’s death including falsely claiming that a police officer didn’t kill him and insulting Floyd’s mother after the family filed a $250 million lawsuit.
Professor West explained that there is no evidence to support the idea that people with mental illness are more likely to have racist views. She noted that symptoms of mania for people that are unmedicated can cause some of the behaviors Ye demonstrates, such as “a sense of grandiosity, invincibility and inability to control impulses,” but that does not determine the content of thoughts.
Mandy Raiff, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas at Austin who suffers from bipolar disorder, offered her own analysis of the artist and business mogul.
“I think he just has a lot of hate and the reason he feels like he is in a position to spout it can be part of the mania in bipolar where you feel like an all-powerful being,” Raiff said.
Ye is a prominent influencer. Until recently, Ye had around 18 million followers on Instagram and more than 31.5 million followers on Twitter. His accounts have been suspended over antisemitism.
“For a lot of people, the image of bipolar is Kanye, which fucking sucks,” Raiff said. “It has done a lot of damage for the bipolar community.”
Michael, a software developer from Arizona who suffers from bipolar disorder and is Jewish offered his impression of Ye. Michael declined to have his last name published.
“He’s just an asshole and it’s not fair because he’s on a public platform,” Michael said.
Ye has been candid about repeatedly choosing to not take his medication.
“I love the new music I’ve been working on, 6 months off meds and I can feel me again,” Ye wrote in a tweet in 2018.
Raiff said she thinks Ye is boosting a false impression that medication completely changes who you are.
“He’ll go out and say, ‘My meds change who I am; this is the real Kanye.’ But you can be the real you with medication,” Raiff said. ”It just helps symptoms so people can function normally in society.”
However, Ye’s desire to stop medicating when he is being creative reflects a similar experience that some artists with bipolar disorder can relate to. Several people believe that medication can sometimes inhibit their creativity.
“I often write poetry and short stories,” said Dave Holmes, a former hospital emergency room administrator from Pennsylvania who is currently medicated for bipolar I. “Your mind is just ablaze with information and the medication, as much as it helps balance you out, can take away that part of you, which is frustrating.”
Raiff said that people in the hypomanic or manic bipolar stages sometimes become creative and particularly productive. She believes some of Ye’s fans don’t want him to medicate because he makes great music.
“I couldn’t tell you if he’d make the same music if he was medicated,” she said. “But in reality, it comes down to being a functioning human in society, and right now he is not doing acceptable things, so at what cost is a better song?”
Many people have also sparked discussions on Reddit about the importance of medicating.
“My meds are the only reason I am where I am in my life right now,” said one user who stopped taking their medication twice. “The urge to stop taking your meds can be super strong sometimes…Let’s just say I learned my lesson.”
Professor West said that there are great treatments and medical professionals who deliver high-quality care that can, “bring the disorder to a very manageable state where they’re able to fully function and participate in society.”
Holmes added that Ye shouldn’t be excused from taking accountability for his racist comments and that people who are struggling with serious mental health problems are still responsible for what they say.
Michael referenced a quote from Pete Davidson from Saturday Night Live.
“Being mentally ill is not an excuse to act like a jackass,” Davidson said.
Professor West explained that the medical field is working toward further de-stigmatizing such mental illnesses, adding that she wishes people understood bipolar disorder as “a reflection of biological and psychological processes.”
Despite the stigma around bipolar disorder, people who wrestle with it have been eager to clarify the hardships they endure.
“Have patience with us,” said Holmes. “We can be difficult to deal with at times and having someone with bipolar in your family, or a friend, can be trying. So it’s important they seek medical attention.”
As for the artist, Michael hopes he gets help.
“I wish Kanye would take care of himself and find a treatment that works for him.”