Ye: A Case Study on Mental Health

In his seven song, 23 minute album, Kanye West addresses some major topics on mental health from stigma to suicidality to self-medication on his 2018 album ‘ye’. Kanye’s brazenness has been hallmark of his celebrity and his sheer popularity paves a path to opening dialogue around mental health, whichever direction that may be. Whether you are a fan of Yeezy or not, there are some valuable discourses to be opened on the subject of mental health.

“It’s not a disability, it’s a superpower.”
“That's my bipolar s***.”
“That's my superpower, n****, ain't no disability.”

Social Support & Stigma

Diagnosed at 39 with bipolar disorder, West has been open about his mental health condition at the Wyoming listening party for his recently dropped album. At first glance, this sentiment has the air of empowerment, of reworking the handicap into an asset. Much like the venomous spider bite that turned Peter Parker into Spiderman, Kanye reiterates “I’m a superhero! I’m a superhero!” in Yikes

Yet Kanye’s ability to freely address his diagnosis is not solely a function of his “I am a God”-complex, but also his context having created a social empire. In a systematic review article published in BMC Psychiatry earlier in May 2018, Wang et al. performs a meta-analysis on how perceived social support from family, friends, significant others, etc. affect outcomes on various mental health problems including bipolar disorder. More specifically, lower baseline scores of perceived social support were significant predictors for depressive symptomatology, recurrence, time to recovery, remission, quality of life, anxiety symptoms and depressive symptoms in the following year. 

Perceived social support is a self reported measurement assessed by questionnaires such as the Multi-dimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) and refers to “people’s beliefs about how much support is potentially available from their relationships and social contacts and about the quality of this support”. These questionnaires consist of rating statements such as “I can talk about my problems with my friends.” or “There is a special person who is around when I am in need” on a scale from Very Strongly Disagree to Very Strongly Agree.

In the case of Kanye, 2.5 billion views on YouTube provide watching eyes and his 28.4 million twitter followers are deployable thumbs that retweet and validate every text-based thought. West lauds his wife Kim Kardashian in “Wouldn’t Leave” revealing his recognition of her fidelity, indicating a high level of perceived social support.

“My wife callin', screamin', say we 'bout to lose it all
Had to calm her down 'cause she couldn't breathe
Told her she could leave me now, but she wouldn't leave.”

Yet amongst the population of those with mental health issues, Kanye and his perceived social support income would be standard deviations away from the norm. Few have achieved the success and critical acclaim of Kanye, or have a cult of personality that overwrites social stigma, or have enough awards and nominations to warrant a separate wikipedia article. It is worth repeating that not everyone has the mental real estate or infrastructure to reconstruct a positive narrative around their mental health status.
Not everyone who gets bitten by a spider starts spitting webs from their wrists, sometimes it’s just a spider bite.