Kanye West and the problematic attention surrounding his behavior
- Kanye West has been taking his grievances publicly on Instagram.
- Psychologists say it’s tempting to keep up with his posts, but best to stop paying attention.
- Kanye West has a history with bipolar disorder, but the public knows nothing about his current mental state.
From criticizing his daughter North's TikTok account to posting memes about Kim Kardashian's rumored beau Pete Davidson, Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, has been making headlines, trending on social media and drawing attention from fans over the past few weeks.
Most recently after sharing several posts on Valentine's Day, Ye apologized for his behavior on Tuesday— one day before the release of his Netflix documentary, "jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy."
"I’m working on my communication. I can benefit from a team of creative professionals, organizers, mobilizers and community leaders. Thank everybody for supporting me. I know sharing screen shots was jarring and came off as harassing Kim. I take accountability. I’m still learning in real time. I don’t have all the answers. To be good leader is to be a good listener."
Though most of his posts from the last few weeks have been deleted, they live on in social media grabs, TikToks and headlines as some media outlets and fans have been sharing the rapper's every word.
But giving stars like Ye constant attention without putting this behavior in context can be damaging, experts caution.
"The reality is, the media can be culpable and truly damaging people's lives," says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and author of "Detox Your Thoughts." "And when the media frames it as entertainment or a public spectacle, we make it acceptable to talk in this way about any human who is suffering."
That includes the rapper and the subjects of his posts.
In fact, experts agree the best thing we can do, for Ye, his family and ourselves, is to avoid treating his posts as comedic fodder.
What happens when we treat the Kanye West situation as a spectacle
It may be tempting to keep up with Ye's frequent Instagram posts. But experts say we need to remember that the star has been open about his mental health issues, speaking in detail in the past about his bipolar disorder. And the public knows nothing — and should not make assumptions — about his current mental state.
Yet throughout the last few weeks, he has been heavily mocked on social media, with some joking he is "off the meds" while others demonize the rapper.
Kali Hobson, a board-certified psychiatrist, says this reaction of ridicule, rather than compassion, is common for high-profile stars in crisis. (Think back to the memorable, now highly criticized tabloid coverage of Britney Spears in the early 2000s.)
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"When you are a celebrity, your mental health challenges are put on display to the public," Hobson says. "You are often criticized, made fun of, chastised, and compared to others. People who don’t know you or your history are making judgments and labeling you with diagnoses."
Treating his posts as entertainment or gossip also downplays safety concerns for Ye, Kardashian and others his behavior has been directed at. Mental health experts say the former pair are a litmus test for behaviors the public views as healthy or unhealthy, and may also be shining a spotlight on behaviors of ex-partners that are troubling at best and dangerous at worst.
Bonior cautions the reactions that Ye is getting for his behavior may be encouraging him to act further.
"I don't want to totally blame the media, but I do think it's a matter of fueling a fire, and there's a fine line between newsworthiness and 'Let's go after the clickiest headline at someone else's expense,'" Bonior says.
Not only can this constant coverage worsen a celebrity's own mental health, but it also perpetuates the stigma for others: that those with mental health issues are dangerous, weak-minded, lazy or attention-seeking — and as a result, deserve to be laughed at.
"People become emboldened to make fun of celebrities because they feel so far removed from their life and they almost see them as not human; a fictional character," Hobson says. "But… if people see celebrities being ridiculed and demonized in the media, why would anyone else feel that it was safe to be open and seek help?"
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Great strides have been made in recent years to destigmatize mental health, but there's still much work to be done, as seen with the sensationalization of Ye's personal struggles framed as "entertainment" and "drama."
The media has the power to help the mental health stigma. They can provide resources. Cover cautiously, even if that includes offering privacy for the celebrity and their family— no matter how public the situation becomes. (For instance, "jeen-yuhs" director Clarence Simmons said he stopped filming during one of Ye's diatribes out of consideration for his mental health.)
"There's a responsibility we have as human beings to not portray people in such a way that we're damaging them, and potentially damaging other folks who suffer from these disorders," Bonior says.