For families with members who struggle with various mental illnesses, there’s so much that our peers who aren’t in that boat struggle to fully understand. Particularly in the cases of often misunderstood and mis-represented mental illnesses — like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder — it can be complicated (on top of trying to support our loved ones) to also try and unpack and explain our experiences to people on the outside.
And for these families, coverage of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s experience publicly dealing his bipolar disorder, can bring out a lot of those feelings. On Wednesday, Kardashian-West, who has been privately navigating her role as a partner and mother, posted on Instagram and Twitter a note that captures so much of the vulnerable, complicated feelings you have when the world is looking in on a deeply personal family struggle.
“I’ve never spoken publicly about how this has affected us at home because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health. But today, I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health,” West wrote. “Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor.”
She went on to note that Kanye’s fame and the “complicated” parts of his personality and lived experiences (especially the fame and public attention) can lead to him and his family being in a particularly unique situation as he experiences an episode.
“I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions,” she wrote. “He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with that pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bi-polar disorder. Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words some times do not align with his intentions.” She wrote. “Living with bi-polar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big or unobtainable they may feel to some. That is part of his genius and as we have all witnessed, many of his big dreams do come true.”
Since one in 25 Americans live with serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression, it’s not uncommon for families to go through something like the Kardashian-West family is experiencing. But these are mental illnesses that are still terribly misunderstood by the culture as a whole and can lead to harmful stereotypes and narratives overshadowing the real lived experiences of these people.
It’s important to note that among the myths and stereotypes, the mischaracterization of mentally ill individuals as violent or unpredictable (often accompanied with derogatory framing of them as “crazy”) can often lead to more danger for these individuals — particularly for people of color.
“The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3 percent –5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness,” Mentalhealth.gov notes. “In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.”
She went on to add that the talk of leaving space and being compassionate and understanding of mental health issues needs to extend to when people living with these conditions aren’t at their most palatable or camera ready, if we’re ever going to support those individuals and their families in the right way: “We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most,” she wrote. “I kindly ask that the media and public give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this.”
For more information on the warning signs and prevention of suicide, click here. If you’re considering suicide or fear you may become suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you’re worried about someone you love, visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. If you live outside the U.S., you can find a list of suicide-prevention hotlines worldwide here.
Here are a few of our favorite mental health apps for taking extra care of your brains:
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