celebrity

It's time to revisit the uncomfortable conversation around Kanye West.

This post deals with mental health, and could be triggering for some readers.

For weeks now, barely a day has gone by without Kanye West sparking headlines.

From his documented dates with Julia Fox, to interviews about wanting to reunite with his ex Kim Kardashian. From hanging out with Kim look-a-likes, to announcing his upcoming album Donda 2. From social media posts about his daughter North being on TikTok against his will, to 'calling out' Billie Eilish for helping fans at her concert.

Kanye has publicly picked fights, and shared a series of memes about his 'enemies', especially Kim's current boyfriend, Pete Davidson, who he has repeatedly called 'Skete'.

Each day this week has seen him share Instagram posts, in all caps, that are deleted hours later.

Among them were private messages between Kanye and Kim, who asked him to stop the posts about Pete as she feared for his safety. On Valentine's Day, Kanye posted a photo of a black truck filled with red roses, which looked to be parked in Kim's driveway.

Millions of people have watched every development, in fact, he has gained over three million new followers in recent days.

Julia Fox and Kanye West in January. Image: Getty.

Kanye is one of the most public people in the world. He's also one of the most complicated to have a conversation about, because nuance often gets shut out of discussions online. 

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And, right now, it is crucial that it doesn't. 

This story is not as simple as the main hot takes right now, which boil down to 'Kanye's abusive', 'Kanye's crazy' or 'Kanye's a genius'.

First, it must be stressed that his recent behaviour towards Kim - and Pete - is not okay. It has been disturbing to see many fans applaud what they perceive as 'dedication' to 'bringing his family back together' in his comments. The behaviour he has shared on Instagram is manipulative, intimidating and harassing. 

This sort of behaviour is life and death for many women and it should not, under any circumstances, be enabled or taken lightly.

Mental illness also does not condone or excuse this behaviour. But another unavoidable fact in this discussion is that Kanye lives with bipolar disorder.

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

Speaking to Mamamia, medical doctor and psychiatrist Dr Kieran Kennedy explained that bipolar disorder "is a mood disorder whereby the thoughts, feelings and emotions attached to our mood can shift markedly between the lows of major depression and the highs of hypomania or mania".

Image: Getty.

"For someone in a depressed phase or replace, they may appear notably low in mood, tearful and sad. As in depression in other instances, fatigue, low energy, poor sleep, loss of appetite and a loss of interest in activities someone usually loves can all be part and parcel," Dr Kennedy said.

"On the other side however, mania typically sees someone expressing and showing a highly elevated mood where feeling euphoric, 'on top of the world' or even abnormally irritable or agitated can all occur. "

Kanye 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". 

Dr Kennedy said that during mania, someone with bipolar "might present with racing thoughts and speech, and sudden strikes of ideas or plans".

"Grandiose beliefs about special talents, abilities or purpose aren't uncommon in significant mania, and things like loss of need for sleep, risky behaviour (like spending, speeding and raised libido/promiscuity), and even paranoia can occur too," he said.

Dr Kennedy stressed that it's not possible to definitively say that recent Instagram and media posts represent Kanye's bipolar disorder, but "it's possible that some of the things we're seeing represent signs of someone really struggling".

Image: Getty.

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

"It's important to flag that it's often the case that those with bipolar disorder don't appear any different from someone without the condition," Dr Kennedy explained. "When the mood is stable and the right treatment is in place, those with bipolar disorder can and do live normal lives without any impact from the condition."

The world does not know Kanye's management plan, and it is no one's business but his own. He is a 44-year-old man with all the resources he needs to care for himself. 

No one else is responsible for his behaviour. We can only be responsible for our reaction to it. 

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Right now, the world is treating him as a public spectacle. This has been presented as juicy gossip, when it should be presented as deeply concerning - if presented at all.

"The drive to, for years now, contextualise possible mental illness as entertainment and tabloid fodder when it comes to celebrities is potentially really harmful," Dr Kennedy explained.

"If this does represent someone who's struggling or experiencing a relapse, making public spectacle, memes and fuel to the fire through the media pushes enduring stigma around mental illness and - as we've seen with other celebs in the past all too well - actually increases the potential harm toward them."

Kim and Kanye at a Paris Fashion Week 2012 show, after they just began dating. Image: Getty.

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The public and media response to these kinds of situations is crucial to ending the stigma around mental illness.

"I think it's absolutely key that we remind ourselves that even though it's in a public forum, this is potentially someone who's really struggling and who's unwell," Dr Kennedy said.

"That deserves our compassion and respect without the stigma and potential harms that using illness as entertainment can push."

Right now, we are ultimately making light of pain: the pain of Kanye, but also the pain of Kim, their children, Pete and everyone else in their orbit. 

The consequences of this are yet to be seen, but the stakes are high. 

In the first episode of the Netflix documentary jeen yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, which began streaming February 16, Kanye spoke about previously having suicidal thoughts and substance abuse issues.

He and Kim are still in the process of divorce. If it goes to court, this could definitely hurt his case. They share four children, who will one day find headlines about their parents unavoidable - if they don't already. 

And multiple reports have stated that Pete has hired extra security in recent weeks.

This is no doubt a really, really hard time for everyone involved.

It isn't just a compelling headline. This is real life, and we need to change the way we talk about it before we contribute to any further harm.

Chelsea McLaughlin is Mamamia's Senior Entertainment Writer. For more pop culture takes, sarcasm and... cat content, you can follow her on Instagram.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

Feature image: Getty/Mamamia.