Mental health stigma is very real. Let's be careful not to add to it.
In case you haven't heard, Kanye West has been tweeting about Donald Trump. But this article isn't about that, at least not really.
Since returning from his self-imposed, nearly year-long Twitter exile earlier this month, the multiplatinum artist has taken a few... sharp turns.
For the first few days, his feed was mostly just a few feel-good fortune-cookie-level aphorisms. People seemed to like that.
Then there were several days when he tweeted about fashion and plans for some new music.
Somehow, that all led to several days singing the praises of President Trump and sharing videos by far-right commentators like "Dilbert" artist Scott Adams.
None of this is entirely new information, as West announced to a crowd in November 2016 that while he didn't vote, "If I would’ve voted, I would’ve voted for Trump." The two also met up at Trump Tower shortly after the election. So this stuff should surprise no one.
In the wake of West's pro-Trump, anti-being-managed tweets, many have speculated that he's in the middle of a mental breakdown.
Yes, it's true that West was hospitalized for a week in late 2016 for what his team referred to at the time as "exhaustion," while others speculated that it was part of a mental health crisis. According to Hot 97 host Ebro Darden, however, that hospitalization was related to an opioid addiction.
It's still not entirely clear what exactly it was all about, but honestly, it's not any of our business. And neither is the idea that these new tweets indicate any kind of undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition.
Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.
Here's the thing about those kinds of rumors: They're really not helpful. And Kanye's wife, Kim Kardashian West, offered up some important thoughts on the matter.
"To the media trying to demonize my husband let me just say this... your commentary on Kanye being erratic and his tweets being disturbing is actually scary," Kardashian West tweeted. "So quick to label him as having mental health issues for just being himself when he has always been expressive is not fair."
The most important message in the thread is the last one, reading, "Mental Health is no joke and the media needs to stop spitting that out so casually. Bottom line."
She's right. Suggesting someone is experiencing mental illness because they don't share your views on politics is patently ridiculous. As a society, we have a tendency to try to explain away things we don't understand (or don't want to understand) by placing blame on mental illness.
We see this play out every time there's a mass shooting: Rather than looking at the underlying causes, we offer up "thoughts and prayers" and spend a few days talking about mental illness.
Using mental illness as a scapegoat any time someone does something we don't like simply increases stigma.
And this stigma actively prevents people with mental illness from getting the help they need.
The point here is that none of our tweets speculating about West's mental health — even if many of them are the result of genuine concern — will actually help him. He may very well be struggling with mental illness right now, or he may not. Unless we personally know him, none of us are really in a position to help him or make that judgment.
In any case, he will almost certainly not see or want the vast majority of our commentary on this.
What's important to consider is how our tweets and our discussion about mental health might impact everyone who does see it. The world is long overdue for a discussion about mental illness, but must we always frame it in the context of tragedy, embarrassment, or disagreement?
Let's do better.