Mental illness, once a taboo subject in polite society, has become more openly talked about in the mainstream. Many with mental health problems now have more resources and support than ever before, but while there is plenty of lip service given about reducing the stigma surrounding such issues, amateur psychology is being turned into a political weapon.
Kanye West’s recent visit to the White House, which included a “speech,” or perhaps a “rant,” depending on your point of view, is the latest incident to bring up claims of mental illness against the rapper. West may present a muddled vision, but ever since he began to question the official politically correct narrative, the media has openly questioned his sanity.
West is not the only one whose mental acumen has been doubted. Claims of mental instability have been casually aimed at President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump supporters, without any legitimate evaluation.
It wasn’t until he started to get political that the media started to question his mental health.
An increased public awareness of psychological health issues must benefit those who suffer psychologically, but the stigma of mental illness will not go away as long as it is used as ammunition to shoot down political enemies.
The first time Kanye West made it onto the radar of many non-hip hop fans was after the 2009 Video Music Awards, when he crashed an acceptance speech by pop star Taylor Swift, grabbed the microphone and proclaimed that Beyoncé Knowles was more deserving of the win. From that moment on, nobody could doubt that West was perhaps a little self-centered and definitely willing to express his opinions in public. But while his VMA antics were widely regarded as obnoxious, it wasn’t until he started to get political that the media started to question his mental health.Kanye West and Taylor Siwft at the 2009 VMAs
Kanye West has apparently been going through some perceptual changes over the few years and it appears that his thoughts are rather jumbled, or at least, his method of expressing them is. He interrupted a 2016 concert, to make a long speech criticizing the manufactured music industry and expressing support for President Trump. “I told y’all I didn’t vote, right?” West said during another concert at around the same time, “[B]ut if I would have voted, I would have voted on Trump.”
Shortly thereafter, he cancelled the rest of his tour and was put in the hospital due to a “psychiatric emergency.” While West was ostensibly hospitalized for exhaustion and sleep deprivation, the media speculated on a potential nervous breakdown, a meltdown, spiraling out of control, etc. But his wife, reality TV star Kim Kardashian, suggested that he was being accused of mental instability simply for expressing unconventional opinions for someone in his social circles:
He’s a free thinker, is that not allowed in America? Because some of his ideas differ from yours you have to throw in the mental health card? That’s just not fair. He’s actually out of the sunken place when he’s being himself which is very expressive
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) April 25, 2018
Claims of mental illness have continued as West has become more vociferous in his support of the president. West has recently talked about having a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, which he said during his White house speech was a misdiagnosis as a result of sleep deprivation symptoms. And of course, because society’s response to people who get out of control is to pump them full of drugs, we have seen headlines such as this one in People magazine: “Kanye West Won’t Listen to Pleas to Get Back on Meds Amid ‘Unhinged’ White House Rant: Source.”
But LN isn’t a celebrity rag and this story is not truly about Kanye West or his erratic behavior. Rather, West is just one example in a trend of armchair diagnosticians using mental illness as a weapon to belittle a political dissident.
Mental Illness as a Tool
“That is called mental illness, hearing voices.”
“That is called mental illness, hearing voices.”
. Most observers will remember the calls to impeach the newly elected Donald Trump on the grounds of his supposed mental incompetency. Until the White House doctor pronounced the president mentally fit for the job, cutting off any serious effort to impeach him on those grounds, the media and even psychiatric professionals (who had never met or formally assessed him) were prepared to use mental illness as an excuse to oust a president with no serious evidence. Of particular note was the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, edited by psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee and containing essays by 27 mental health professionals, declaring that Trump’s mental state was a “clear and present danger” to the “nation and individual well being.” Not only was the book taken seriously by the press, Lee was invited to brief a dozen members of Congress on Trump’s mental state, despite never having met the man.
When former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman said on television that Vice President Mike Pence thinks Jesus “tells him to say things,” television host Joy Behar was quick to plant the idea of insanity: “It is one thing to talk to Jesus. It is another thing when Jesus talks to you. That is called mental illness, hearing voices.”
Possibly worse than targeting a single individual are attempts to slander an entire section of the population. The news website Raw Story published an article that assessed the mental state of Trump voters; naturally every single one was suffering from a variety of issues including “authoritarian personality syndrome, social dominance orientation, prejudice (of course), intergroup contact, and relative deprivation,” according to LN’s Jeff Charles.
Goes Both Ways
Of course, President Trump has been accused of similar indiscretions. Nobody is claiming that the president is careful with his words and he has called numerous people “crazy” including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and TV personality Mika Brzezinski. While it’s obvious he did not intend his insults to be acted on or taken literally, such comments arguably contribute to the overall trend toward baseless claims of mental illness.
In January, Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Stable Genius Act to have all presidential candidates psychologically tested before being allowed to run for election. But exactly who determines whether one is mentally unfit?
Currently, Trump and his supporters are the ones targeted with claims of mental illness, but so far they have been able to somewhat shed the label. More worrying is that any individual or group to be classed in the public eye as mentally unstable if they don’t toe the politically correct line. What future persecution could be justified if this trend is allowed to steam ahead?