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[OPINION] The problem with accusing Kanye West of mental illness

Kanye West, apparently in preparation for the release of his new album, has gone on somewhat of a Twitter rampage. In the past week the rapper has tweeted his support for Donald Trump with supporting media and pictures resulting in a loss of millions of Twitter followers and then, to top it all off, in a recent video on celebrity website TMZ, he outrageously called slavery a choice.

West is a storm. He always has been. He blew out of the American Music Awards a couple of years ago in opposition to George W Bush when he said Bush did not support black people, and then, of course, (among others) there was his disturbing rant at the 2009 Video Music Awards where he vehemently vocalised his disappointment that Beyoncé was robbed of an award Taylor Swift received instead.

But the most recent events as mentioned above literally do take the cake and rob the field of its cotton and the blood, sweat and tears that America was built on, carried on the backs of the slaves he insulted.

A pool of celebrities and activists have surfaced to speak up against him. Names like Frank Ocean, Spike Lee and even the mild-mannered John Legend - who opted for a personal letter instead of a status update directed at the rapper - have tried to light a spark in the heart of Kanye’s seemingly unenlightened heart, but to no avail.

But by far the most disturbing analysis of West’s behaviour is one that lives in troll form, breeding far and wide on Twitter, and that is the multiple accusations the star has faced for being crazy and mentally ill. Yes, the ‘diagnosis’ is not sprung from dead air. West was, in fact, hospitalised in 2016 after suffering a mental breakdown as a result of intense touring and an incident where his wife Kim Kardashian was the victim of a robbery in Paris, as well as the grief he harboured due to the loss of his mother. Kanye has also previously been diagnosed with sleep deprivation.

Analysing his mental health status by the general public, or even medical professionals, on social media is complicated because of the aforementioned facts, and while it’s an easy conclusion to jump to in age of addiction to pathologising behaviour and opinion (especially when it comes to black people who historically are dismissed as crazy for having an opinion on anything at all), the accusations remain unethical.

There are real stigmas attached to being ‘crazy’. Armchair diagnoses do nothing to help erase the stigmatisation of people living with mental illness and who bear witness to mania or any other kind of diagnosis in their real lives.

Some of the more professional, jargonised diagnoses that West has been accused of on social media are narcissism, egomania, being delusional and even suffering from a god-complex. And those are the ‘kinder’ or ‘softer’ accusations.

But Twitter and assumption have never played any part in the professional diagnosis of a mental health condition. It is, and remains, a lot more complex than that. It’s more than erratic behaviour on Twitter, which involves the shocking support of Trump and vastly different and incoherent opinions and politics. What factors have contributed to West’s view of the world, his schema and how can we jump to conclusions without this? Especially when those conclusions have an impact on the real lives of many who battle with mental illnesses, which have conclusively been diagnosed in the real world?

Stephen Hinshaw, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley on Health.Com says: “Though it might be tempting to ‘diagnose’ or brand someone with views that you find abhorrent as ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho,’ doing so ignores the fact that mental disorders actually do exist and cause real pain and impairment - but require considerable time and effort on the part of the clinician to make an accurate diagnosis,” Hinshaw says. “No one can do this by reading someone’s political views.”

That’s not to say that West does not suffer and will escape suffering from simply being Kanye. His slavery comments especially are words that devalue and degrade West’s own history as a black man, as well as denying the history and struggle of a centuries-old civil rights struggle that is still ongoing.

Pop psychology diagnoses or none, one thing is clear: Kanye is not safe from his own self-inflicted harm, especially through the eyes of a black America.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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