“so is he in the ER or is he in the looney bin?”
After a series of rants and cancelled shows, news of Kanye West being admitted to the UCLA Medical Center broke the morning of November 22nd. I paid close attention to the commentary regarding the hospitalization of Yeezus from peers and was a bit disheartened by the abundance of “he’s not mentally ill, he’s an asshole” comments. Immediately after, an executive decision to completely unplug from social media and gather my thoughts was made. I checked myself and avoided arguments sparked by displaced anger because in all fairness, they were right. Mental illness doesn’t excuse trash behavior. Being an asshole is being an asshole is being an asshole. It’s inexcusable and annoying. Why? Well, because it is consciously choosing to do so with a complete disregard for those around you which, contrary to popular belief, is the complete opposite of dealing with mental illness. In fact, the only choice mental illness involves (in most cases) is attempting to live a normal life in spite of your diagnosis. It means smiling when you don’t “feel it” to avoid being called angry. It means trying to focus while nearing defeat in the civil war raging in your head. It also means being ostracized for a set of issues that, if given the choice, you’d package up and express ship back to wherever they came from.
ICYMI: Mental illness is inconvenient as hell.
Early, unconfirmed reports stated that Mr. West’s admittance was the result of a 5150 hold. For those unfamiliar, a 5150 is an involuntary psychiatric hold which, “authorizes a qualified officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes them a danger to themselves, a danger to others, and/or gravely disabled. A qualified officer can request the confinement after signing a written declaration stating the psychiatric diagnosis that the diagnosing medical professional believes to be the cause or reason why they believe the patient to be a danger to themselves or others or the psychiatric disorder that has rendered the patient incapable of making their own medical treatment decisions.”
If you’re wondering how this works in real life, I’ll tell you. A doctor says that you are unfit to make your own decisions and you have the option of either a) signing yourself over to the State for a period of supervision or b) being forcefully committed (and possibly medicated) to a mental institution for an unspecified amount of time. You are then assigned a social worker who will ask whether or not you’ve had thoughts about harming yourself or others. You are expected to answer truthfully but it does not matter because you will have this same conversation several times over the course of said unspecified amount of days until you have proven to both social workers and physicians that you are fit. There will be a schedule of therapy sessions that you are not “forced” to attend but should because it shows progress and a willingness to receive help. There is also a strict eating schedule that you are somewhat forced to follow because failure to do so is a sign of attempted suicide by starvation and can result in an even longer stay. It is not glamorous. The utensils are all plastic. Pens and scissors aren’t really a thing. You do not have access to cords or anything that can be used as an instrument to harm yourself or anyone around you. You belong to the State and insubordination can come with harsh consequences. Like I said, it is not glamorous and though common, it’s something most tend to keep buried in their closet with all the other skeletons.
But that is not exactly an option when you’re Kanye West, is it?
One would hope that the confidentiality provided to patients by way of HIPAA is afforded to celebrities but much like how shit goes down when there’s a billion dollars on the elevator, very little can be kept from scrutiny of the public. While mental illness is no stranger to this, I can’t help but wonder if the response is much different when it comes from likely and likable sources. Take the contrast in responses to Kid Cudi and Kehlani for example. Last month the Man on the Moon’s open letter to his fans about going to rehab was welcomed with open arms and think pieces about fragile Black masculinity as it relates to mental health awareness. Cudi was publicly prayed for and comforted by fans and industry figures alike. Seven months earlier, however, the young songbird from Oakland was ridiculed and called a “whore” more times than Mary Magdalene for attempting suicide and thanking her ex for saving her life.
Now fast forward to November. The overflow of support for exhibited towards Cudi is replaced with, “he’s just an asshole” and “this is because he decided to marry a Kardashian.” West, who on his song “FML” expressed to the world how crazy he can get when he’s off his Lexapro, is chastised and accused of using mental illness as an excuse. Oh, and for the unfamiliar, Lexapro is an antidepressant used to treat severe depression and anxiety in adults.
Please note that this is in no way a red shiny cape swinging to justify the actions of Mr. West. I’ve criticized his actions about as many times as I’ve listened to “Devil in a New Dress” (which is probably my favorite song ever) on repeat and wanted to slap his face when he suggested that voting for Trump was a good idea. When he’s being an asshole, I acknowledge that because like I said: being an asshole is being an asshole is being asshole. Suffering from an episode sparked by mental illness, however, is not merely being an asshole and shouldn’t be treated as such.