We’ve seen this story unfold a thousand, billion, zillion times: one of the world’s biggest superstars, seemingly unable to cope with fame, fortune, and being surrounded by people telling them they’re the most talented person on the planet, has an extremely visible and public breakdown. Of particular note: Michael Jackson, Britney Spears… and Kanye West.
The wide and varied history of Kanye West controversies would take a far longer article than I have indeed been asked to write here, but suffice it to say he has had extreme ups – his music is indisputably some of the most impactful of our lifetime – and heartbreakingly public, wildly dramatic downs, including ‘the Taylor Swift incident,’ ‘proclaiming his support for Donald Trump in a MAGA hat,’ and ‘saying slavery was a choice.’
This week, Kanye – who recently claimed he was running against Trump for President in 2020, despite allegedly not having filed any of the necessary paperwork – held a ‘campaign rally’, during which he spieled anti-abortion rhetoric, disclosed that he had wanted his wife Kim Kardashian to have an abortion when she was pregnant with their daughter North West, yelled at a woman in the crowd for wearing a face mask, broke down in tears and stormed off stage.
This was followed by a series of erratic and quickly deleted tweets yesterday, in which Kanye accused Kim and his mother-in-law Kris Jenner of trying to ‘lock him up’ and comparing his life to the movie Get Out (which, if you haven’t seen it, is about a black man being tormented and enslaved by his white girlfriend’s family).
While tabloid media went into overdrive and the general public settled in for another entertaining round of ‘oh, here we go, ol’ crazy Kanye West is at it again,’ I could feel my heart sinking. This may be me back on my empath-in-overdrive bullshit, but when I see anyone – a celebrity or a stranger on the street – having a public mental health episode or crisis, it makes my heart break into a million little pieces. My heart physically aches, and I want to scream at every person making fun of someone who is so visibly unwell.
Kanye has been very open about the fact that he lives with Bipolar Disorder. In better times, he has spoken openly about his symptoms and bouts of mania he experiences, as well as how he treats the condition and his difficult relationship with medication.
As someone who lives with various mental illnesses and has had her fair share of mental health crises, it truly does break me to watch a fellow mentally ill person experience an extreme episode of their condition – particularly one so severe they appear to be experiencing a form of psychosis or delusion, and genuinely believe their family are trying to ‘lock them up’ when they are trying to get them medical care.
The thing that I struggle with the most, however, is watching the public reaction. I know, I know – the internet is a trashfire and I should just log off. But damn… it really never ceases to amaze me just how cruel people can be.
Sure, Kanye West is a celebrity and public figure; a person who has fought tooth and nail for the very limelight that now appears, it seems, to be burning holes in their sanity. Again, that might just be that pesky empath in me. But this is also a human being that could probably use some compassion and maybe a spot of privacy while he’s having a severe mental health crisis.
But these shitposts and jokes about celeb breakdowns have real world, real-time impacts. You might not realise it, but your words can have a serious impact on your loved ones, your acquaintances, your colleagues. I’m talking about a huge amount of people – your flippant jokes on social media have the ability to alienate far more people in your life than you might realise.
Mental illness is really, really common. According to Beyond Blue, one in six Australians is experiencing depression or anxiety or both on any given day. So when you post on social media to make fun of celebrities like Kanye having a bloody rough time, do you know who sees that? That one person. Do you know who feels genuine harm and concern because of your shitposting? That one person. One out of every six of your mates is sitting there reading your ‘Kanye is crazy’ post, maybe feeling uneasy and making some decisions – conscious and unconscious – about you, your relationship, and your lack of empathy for their condition.
They’re realising that you are not a person they can come to when they need help.
They’re realising you are not someone who will create a safe, open space where they can talk about their experiences, emotions and mental wellbeing.
They’re realising that maybe you are not someone they can trust to be there when the going gets rough.
They are realising you are not someone they can cry in front of.
They’re realising you might laugh when you try to talk about being depressed or anxious. They’re realising you are someone who might make fun of them for seeing a psychologist.
They’re realising you are someone who believes the stereotypes about and adds to the stigmatisation of their illness.
They’re realising you are someone they have to hide a significant part of their life from.
And look – none of these things might be true! You might be an absolutely lovely person who your friends can rely on to talk to, and you had absolutely no bad intentions when you decided to tweet a joke about a celeb’s breakdown. But here’s the thing to remember: intentions don’t have consequences, actions do. Just because you didn’t have bad intentions, doesn’t mean your actions won’t have negative or harmful consequences.
So if you want to be a proper mate to your friends with mental health conditions and want them to know you’re someone they absolutely can come to when the mental illness shit hits the brain fan and they need support and open arms, then quit the jokes about celebs with mental illness being ‘crazy.’
When you tweet jokes about mental illness, you’re just reminding your mates living with it that you think they and their conditions are a joke too. And trust me, living with this shit is no fucking joke.
Help is available.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you are in distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or chat online.
Have something on your mind? You can reach out to BeyondBlue at 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.Image: Getty Images / Kevork Djansezian