As a result of living in a society that has become fixated on knowing every last intimate detail of a public figure’s life, a celebrity meltdown is no longer an event that occurs behind closed doors. The paparazzi pray for these instances to be caught on camera. Unlike mere mortals, celebrity breakdowns can have a lasting effect on reputation: How could one forget Britney’s 2007 breakdown (shaved head, British accent and the umbrella incident) or the numerous documented outbursts by Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan? Experts and non-experts alike have looked at these unfortunately captured events and hypothesized that such behaviours were as a result of some form of psychiatric illness. Psychiatric diagnoses are often thrown around carelessly and assigned to certain celebrities without adequate or appropriate knowledge. Additionally, these “diagnoses” are made without informed consent. Does using such labels help us conceptualize the behaviors and address any fears we may have personally, or have we all become medical experts overnight?
Over the past week, every entertainment outlet has been documenting, play-by-play, the behaviours of the self-proclaimed genius Kanye West. Whether it is the 140 character statements he posts on Twitter or the recorded rant released from backstage at Saturday Night Live, Yeezy has us all talking. In just a week, he has proclaimed himself as being 50 per cent more influential than any other human being and the reason Taylor Swift is famous. Is this behavior new? Are these comments out of his control? Can this be explained by mental illness? The answer is: no, no and no.
Ye is no idiot. Everything statement he releases is (likely) calculated and has purpose. The truth is, there is no such thing as bad publicity and Kanye is engaging in just that. Heck, he didn’t achieve such wealth and fame from sitting in the corner rapping about butterflies and unicorns, did he? This is Kanye: He is passionate, he is egotistical, he is rude and he is confrontational—but he is also very much in control. Though some are speculating about whether Kanye’s recent behaviours, or others alike, are a result of mental illness, we can’t know. Sure, from a purely statistical standpoint, anybody (even Kanye) is at risk of having a psychiatric illness; one in five individuals live with mental illness. However, not even the most skilled psychiatrist can infer illness from public appearances, including rants, rude tweets and lyrics (myself included, as a physician specializing in psychiatry in Halifax and a blogger on wellness issues and more). In order to make a psychiatric diagnosis, a lot more information is needed (timeline, symptoms, and functional impairment).
Although professionals cannot diagnose someone from afar (like Twitter and tabloids) as having a medical diagnosis, when they do assess someone’s psychological state in the privacy of their own office, they may look for the following: symptoms of mood, longstanding anxiety, perceptual disturbances (ex., auditory hallucinations) and personality traits that are not only pervasive but cause functional impairment. All of the above symptoms, especially longstanding personality traits, are not something we can infer from behind our iPhones, etc.—unless, of course, we are chilling with Yeezus poolside every weekend.
Labelling can be tempting: It puts behaviours into a nice understandable little box that we can bring to our next dinner party debate. Such labels may not only be inaccurate, but they can also be careless. It’s important to leave the diagnoses to the experts. A lot can be revealed at the shrink’s office that TMZ does not report on.
If you really think about it, in the past week, Kanye released his new album, Life of Pablo, and showcased Yeezy Season 3 at New York Fashion Week. Is it a coincidence that we are witnessing the re-emergence of such erratic behavior at such a pivotal moment in his career? I think not. Being the true “genius” that he is, he has us talking. Mission accomplished.
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