In the wake of Kanye West’s apparent psychotic episode last weekend, Sheffield charities have spoken of the positive impact celebrities can have on the discussion over mental health issues. Grace Holliday explores the theories behind Kanye’s breakdown, and consider the charities’ advice on how to deal with friends and family who may be suffering from mental health problems.
ON Saturday evening, Kanye West walked off stage at his gig in California after just 30 minutes, two songs and a furious rant. He railed at old friends, current friends, politicians and corporations before leaving the stage. Fans went home angry and disappointed, the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour was cancelled, and on Monday he was admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Centre Los Angeles. It is believed that he may have suffered a mental breakdown. Confirmed details in subsequent days have been sketchy, but he is believed to have been discharged in order to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
While the official reason cited by his official spokespeople is “exhaustion”, those who have followed Kanye’s journey over recent years may suspect more is at play. A reputation as an eccentric and erratic character, he has drawn disapproval from many over the years. A 30-minute video entitled ‘Feel Like That’, created in collaboration with Steve McQueen and published earlier this year, was seen by many as a cry for help. It featured lines such as “Do you feel tempered outbursts, that you cannot control? I feel like that all the time,” as well as reference to him ending his own life and feeling tearful, dizzy and lonely. In the months that followed, his wife Kim Kardashian was held at gunpoint in a hotel room in Paris. November also marks the month that Kanye lost his mother, after complications caused by plastic surgery. Speaking about her death in Q magazine, Kanye has said: “If I had never moved to LA, she’d be alive.”
The ‘Feel Like That’ video has since been taken down, but the videos of his rant on Saturday remain. So does the lingering suspicion for many that Kanye suffered a very public psychotic episode, of which the repercussions are now beginning to surface. Previous fans have now turned on him, and his finances will surely take a hit due to the cancelled remaining shows and wide-spread demand for ticket refunds.
The legitimacy of Kanye’s outburst and resulting hospitalisation has also been questioned, with some refusing to consider that anything more serious than a diva tantrum may have been at the centre of his apparent implosion. However, Sarah Carson, Co-Owner and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at Sheffield CBT Practice says: “Mental health effects people in ways that are unique to them. Although their diagnosis may fit into depression, how that impacts on them is unique to the person.” In other words, just because Kanye’s behaviour is unusual compared to what we normally see, it doesn’t make it any less worthy of urgent help and attention.
He would not be the first celebrity to have had his mental health made public. Depression was quickly understood to be the cause of actor Robin Williams’ 2014 suicide, and a factor in the accidental overdose of actor Heath Ledger in 2008.
What these three celebrities have in common is that they did not necessarily intend for their mental state to be public knowledge. However, it each of their struggles became the focus of their very own media storm.
Yet, as unlikely as it may seem, there is a silver lining to the struggles of these public figures. Mental health charity Mind believe that the publicity celebrities bring to mental health issue can have a positive effect in raising awareness and combatting negative stigmas. While Kanye has yet to speak out about what happened on Saturday, its occurrence has thrust the topic into the public conscience once again. Mental health charity Mind believe that it is vital that those in the public eye work to raise awareness about mental health.
Mind says: “The impact of high profile individuals speaking out about their own mental health shouldn’t be underestimated. They help normalise mental health problems by talking about their own experiences.”
The suicide of celebrities in the wake of mental health issues can also work to bring much needed attention to mental illness. The National Suicide Prevention Line reported a spike in calls to their services in the day that followed Robin Williams’ death. Citing around 3,000 phone calls a day as “fairly typical”, the centre reported that 7,375 people rang the day after his death. This is the highest number of phone calls the helpline had ever received. This isn’t a new phenomenon. A spike was also seen back in 1994, following the suicide of singer Kurt Cobain.
Indeed, research by Mind found that: “28% of people who know someone with mental health problems said they had started a conversation with a loved one about their mental health as a direct result of reading or hearing about a celebrity’s experiences.” Similarly, they add: “25% also said hearing a celebrity talk openly about their own mental health had directly inspired them to seek help and 52% said it has helped them to feel like they weren’t alone.”
Time will tell what happens next to Kanye, and whether he speaks out directly about his mental state. But while it is on our minds, checking in with our friends, family, and indeed ourselves, is something we can all do. Mind’s advice for anyone suffering with mental health issues is clear: “It’s vital to talk to someone, so you are not alone in dealing with it and can get the right help and support. Getting help is really important, whether that’s by joining a support group like Mind’s online community Elefriends, learning relaxation techniques, or speaking to your GP.”
If you are noticing a change in the behaviour of your friends and family, Sarah Carson says communication is the key: “If you notice a person acting differently, ask them why. It’s important to take time to talk to friends and family about how they are. All too often people can forget to ask.”