Kanye West And The Problem Of Armchair Diagnosing

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga that is the life and times of Kanye West unfolded over the course of last week, after an appearance on The Ellen Show saw Yeezy go off in the typical candid colourful fashion we’ve come to expect (and some of us even love).

What followed was highly problematic in that, as a result of this interview, words like ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ were increasingly thrown around by both the public and the media. Granted, it was not just one interview on Ellen that lead to this, these are words that have been used to describe Kanye West and the Kanye West things he does for much of his career and especially the last five years of it. The problem lies in the fact that they are still being used at all.

This is not to cast an opinion on the state of Kanye’s mental health one way or the other. That information would be between Ye and a qualified health professional who has worked with him personally, though outsiders have certainly offered their opinion and Kanye himself seemed to open up about it on The Life Of Pablo.

On Feedback he muses “I been outta my mind a long time’ and ‘Name one genius that ain’t crazy” and on his collaborative track with The Weeknd in FML he raps “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this n*gga when he off his Lexapro” (commonly used to treat depression and anxiety), but this hardly constitutes a diagnosis and it’s not even a definitive admission from Kanye that he has issues. If he’s telling the truth that is a big win as far as mental health goes, but these are rap songs and shouldn’t be treated as gospel.

Whether or not Kanye is mentally ill or not doesn’t concern or affect me one way or the other and it shouldn’t to anyone else. He may be suffering from every mental health issue you could ever think of and things we don’t even have a diagnosis for yet or all of his antics could be a show and he could be privately one of the most reserved, down-to-earth people in the world. Nobody knows and it is of nobody’s business but the man himself.

It just astounded me – the hot takes that came out of that one interview, and how many of them came from people who probably didn’t even bother watching the entire thing, only a chopped up and out-of-context mess of it that popped up in social media feeds. If you haven’t watched that whole interview above please do, it’s fascinating and enlightening and Kanye makes some amazing points. It almost seemed unfair – were people really questioning an entertainer doing what he does and uh… entertaining? It was frustrating that, immediately after Kanye lamented how people in this world seem to want to just want to bring others down, people went and did exactly that.

There are people who would argue that ‘Kanye West is a huge superstar, he can handle it’, and this is a dreadfully lazy answer. Yes, for better or worse, Kanye is the biggest artist on this planet, to the chagrin of baby boomers who think the only real music ever made was dad rock and people who mouth-breathe their way through news.com.au comments sections everywhere. Sure, he’d probably give a grand total of zero fucks about what they think of him, but labelling him as crazy and thinking it doesn’t matter? If anything it’s worse.

This is less about Kanye the person and much more about the wider discussion of mental health in the 21st century. I find it worrying that, for the sheer amount of people in this world who know who Kanye West is, that so many of them are so quick to make light of or dismiss his mental health issues, whether real or not.

There is no problem with people disliking Kanye West or his music nor them expressing their opinion as such. God knows a lot of the world can’t stand anyone even slightly outspoken, he does have a knack for sticking his foot in it sometimes (his Bill Cosby Tweet and his lyrics about Taylor Swift in Famous were in poor-as-fuck taste) and I haven’t enjoyed some of his latest musical efforts nearly as much as his old (something about a grown-ass man rapping about the whereabouts of his croissants just doesn’t resonate as much with me, no matter how fantastic the production behind it is) but to each their own.

What bothers me is when people with no qualifications or proximity to Kanye West, throw words with legitimate connotations behind them like ‘insane’ or ‘psycho’, no matter how trivial they might seem. When mental health is finally becoming as acceptable as its ever been to talk about, even in a genre that has been typically dominated by over-exaggerated bravado and toughness at the expense of these issues in the name of image, why does seemingly half the world want to heap shit on Kanye like that?

It’s a backwards step as far as our ability to hold a rational discussion about mental health. If you’re calling Kanye West crazy then you’re either armchair diagnosing or you’re being far too flippant about what is, for some people, a very serious issue. Neither of those hamfisted approaches are moving the conversation or the way we frame mental health within a broader context forward.

The man makes wonderful, entertaining music and that’s all anyone can ask of him. For all his self-promotion and ranting and all of his eccentricities, he hasn’t hurt anyone physically or done anything to warrant being dismissed as just another crazy celebrity. He’s a family man who is passionate to the core about his art.

When I first heard Kanye rap about coming off of Lexapro it was utterly empowering and badass as all fuck. For myself as someone who has been on antidepressants before and has and continues to go through mental health issues, and I bet for so many others who have been or are in a similar situation, to hear perhaps the most famous person on the planet sharing your experiences and normalising them like that is amazing.

It is so important, as society learns better to accept and open themselves up to talking about mental health across the spectrum, for people like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar and Drake and Earl Sweatshirt and other rappers who have embraced introspection and opened up about their own struggles with mental health issues who have such a huge platform to affect public consciousness surrounding these issues, be able to do so without being ridiculed for it. Not because it would hurt them, but because it hinders the rest of us from moving forward and challenging the way we look at and understand mental health.

Armchair diagnosing is something that hurts us all in the long run and there’s no need for it. Keep doing you Kanye.

Image: EllenTV