Could bipolar disorder really explain Kanye West’s bid for the presidency?

Could bipolar disorder really explain Kanye West’s bid for the presidency?
Source: Reuters

Though it is highly unlikely that a President Kanye West will be in office to meet with any world leaders in 2021, the rapper and fashion mogul’s unusual presidential campaign has gained extensive coverage. Speculation around the motives for West’s run has ranged from it being a publicity stunt for his newest album to it being part of a secret alliance West has with President Donald Trump to siphon votes from former Vice President Joe Biden.

As West’s public behavior and Twitter posts have gotten more erratic in recent weeks, though, media discussion has turned to another culprit: West’s bipolar disorder. The assumption that West’s presidential aspirations were a symptom of mental illness was given credence by his wife, Kim Kardashian West, who discussed her husband’s recent actions on her Instagram account.

Kanye West for president

On Independence Day, outspoken, controversy-courting rapper Kanye West (or Ye) used his Twitter account to announce his intent to run for president: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States 🇺🇸! #2020VISION”

The immediate reaction was a mix of laughter, mockery, skepticism and even high-profile support from billionaire founder and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk.

The sincerity of West’s intentions was immediately questioned, with news organizations reporting that he hadn’t done the necessary work to get on the ballot or register his campaign with the Federal Election Commission. Additionally, West’s run is coming too late for him to appear on multiple state ballots.

Despite missing the deadline to get on the ballot in South Carolina, West announced a campaign event in the state for Sunday, July 19.

West had previously promised he would run for president in 2020 while receiving the Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. In the midst of a rambling, 11-minute speech, West concluded:

“If my grandfather was here right now he would not let me back down! I don’t know I’m fittin’ to lose after this. It don’t matter though, cuz it ain’t about me. It’s about ideas, bro. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth. And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president."

What are Kanye’s motives?

With West having done so little to legitimize his presidential run, people began speculating he had ulterior motives.

Despite West recently saying that he no longer supports Trump, many have noted that the rapper has spent much of the last three years vocally supporting the president, even saying he “loves” him. This has led some to theorize that West had aligned himself with Trump in the hope of stealing away votes from Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden.

The fact that West has a new album, currently named “Donda” (West has a history of making last-minute album title and tracklist changes), has also been offered as a reason for the presidential run. West has frequently used (or been accused of using) elaborate publicity stunts to promote his music and fashion lines.

West’s erratic behavior

However, since West’s Sunday campaign event in South Carolina, a growing consensus has emerged around the belief that his latest actions are the result of mental illness. West appeared at the Exquis Event Center in North Charleston to speak to a mostly young crowd consisting of a few hundred people.

At the event, West made some of his signature eyebrow-raising comments, including that Harriet Tubman “never actually freed the slaves, she just had the slaves go work for other white people.” He also railed against abortion, saying his own father wanted to abort him and that his wife had considered aborting their first child, North West.

In the days since the rally, West has been active on Twitter, tweeting then deleting multiple claims about his wife and her family. That includes saying “Kim tried to bring a doctor to lock me up with a doctor" and that he has sought to divorce her. He also referred to Kim’s mother, Kris Jenner, as “Kris Jong-un,” an apparent reference to the North Korean dictator.

Kim Kardashian West responds

With social media commentators declaring that West was clearly mentally ill, West’s wife posted her response to the ongoing situation on her Instagram account. Her three-part post began, “As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder.” West, himself, said as much on the cover and in the lyrics of his 2018 album, “ye.”

“I’ve never spoken publicly about how this has affected us at home,” she continues, “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.

“I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. 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 the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bi-polar disorder.”

She ends her note by asking for “compassion and empathy” from the public and the media.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive disorder) is multiple mental health disorders as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The most recent edition, the DSM-5, was published in 2013 after over a decade of research and writing. The DSM is the most up-to-date and thorough documentation tool for psychiatric care and diagnosis.

Three separate but related conditions are recognized under the umbrella term of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I results in the most severe presentation of manic episodes and periods of depression. It can at times be accompanied by “psychotic episodes” (usually hallucinations and/or delusions).

Bipolar II typically presents as alternating depressive and manic episodes of less severity than Bipolar I. The manic episodes are generally defined as “hypomanic,” meaning they do not impair daily functioning and are generally shorter lived than full manic episodes.

Cyclothymic disorder involves cycles of hypomania and depression that are less sustained than either Bipolar I or II.

Some form of bipolar disorder occurs in 2.5% of the population, with a higher likelihood of its occurrence found among people who have immediate relatives with the disorder.

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