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'Superpowers' and a presidency bid: The uncomfortable conversation about Kanye West.

Kayne West's recent announcement that he is running for President of the United States has been met with a predictably frenzied response.

Die-hard fans are promising their vote on November 3. Card-carrying Republicans and Democrats are lamenting the 'distraction' ahead of one of the most consequential elections in decades. And political analysts are querying whether it would even be possible so late in the game.

But amid all the eye-rolling, anger and mocking memes, there's another conversation happening around the Grammy-winning musician's bid for top office. It's a conversation about his state of mind.

"That was news to me": Kim Kardashian West on her husband's presidential ambitions. (Post continues below.)


Video via EllenTube


West, 43, lives with bipolar disorder.

The rapper has spoken about being diagnosed at the age of 39, around the time he was hospitalised for a "psychiatric emergency".

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that's typically characterised by cycles of extreme low moods (which are known as depressive episodes) and extreme high moods (known as manic or hypomanic episodes).

The Australian Psychological Society notes that it can look different in different people.

"For some people, episodes can last for three to six months and occur every few years, while others may experience shorter but more frequent episodes over the course of one year," the APS states.

West has been open in the past about the ways in which the disorder manifests in him, including episodes of mania that he's described as "a ramped-up state". He told David Letterman's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction in 2019 that it can also include feelings of paranoia and "heightened connection with the universe".

"Everyone — this is my experience, other people have different experiences — everyone now is an actor. Everything’s a conspiracy. You feel the government is putting chips in your head. You feel you’re being recorded. You feel all these things," he said.

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He was experiencing a manic episode, he's said, during that infamous interview with TMZ in 2018 in which he rambled about reality being "forced upon us" and described the slavery of Black Americans as "a choice".

"By the time I got to TMZ I was ramped up," West told late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel later that year. "So, what was awesome was that the world really got to experience someone in a ramped-up state, and that's where you get these comments that just shoot out, almost like Tourette's [Syndrome]."

The APS identifies "rapid thought and speech" as a common symptom of bipolar disorder mania, along with a host of others, including: risky, impulsive or inappropriate behaviour, and exaggerated self-esteem or feelings of grandiosity.

A number of people who live with the condition have been querying whether West's presidential bid is reflective of that grandiose thinking — this is after all, a man who has earnestly described himself as "a god" and "the greatest artist of all time". 

Several tabloid outlets, including TMZ and People, claim to have spoken to relatives and people close to him who have also expressed concern.

Particularly in the wake of the recent article in Forbes magazine. 

During what the outlet described as "four rambling hours of interviews", West revealed he will form a political party called the "Birthday Party", described vaccines as "the mark of the beast", and said he would base his White House organisational model on the secret country of Wakanda in the Marvel film, Black Panther.

"Our sources say his family and those close to him are worried, but they believe things will stabilize as they have in the past," TMZ reported.

Kanye West, mental health and the danger of the eccentric genius narrative.

Bipolar disorder is treatable — that can't be stressed enough — and the majority of people who live with it lead productive, functioning lives.

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West's wife, Kim Kardashian West, told Vogue in 2019 that while managing the disorder is "an emotional process", "we can definitely feel episodes coming, and we know how to handle them."

How they choose to do that, be it through therapy or medication or other clinical means, should be of no concern to anyone else. 

But it's worthwhile being prudent when reading about or listening to the way West frames his condition.

He has described it as a "brain sprain", but also repeatedly, publicly referred to it as his "superpower". 

In the lyrics of his 2018 song, "Yikes", he says:

That's my bipolar shit, n****, what?
That's my superpower, n****, ain't no disability
I'm a superhero! I'm a superhero!

Bipolar has long had associations with creativity, eccentricity and genius. 

And many people have expressed concern over the past few years that West's characterisation of it may mythologise or glorify the diagnosis and discourage people from seeking help. 

Which, considering the heightened risk of suicidal ideation among people with bipolar disorder, is an alarming proposition.

If that's true, West's campaign for president may hurt the cause rather than serve as the shining, destigmatising example we crave.

It's an uncomfortable conversation, no doubt. But with stakes this high, it's surely worth having.

If you think you may be experiencing a mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for immediate crisis support or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Featured image: Getty.

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