Psychiatrist Reflects on Kanye

Psychiatrist Reflects on Kanye

On the Fourth of July, rapper, designer and newly minted politician Kanye West declared that he was running for President of the United States; however since his announcement, many people have been worried about his mental health.  At his first campaign rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, on July 19, the artist, who has been open about his Bipolar disorder, made some controversial statements such as Harriet Tubman “never actually freed the slaves, she just had them work for other white people,” and began screaming and crying when talking about the choice he and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, made to not abort their daughter North.  With such bold statements and extreme emotions, which was followed by personal, nonsensical tweets a little over a day later,  many felt West was having a manic episode.

With decades of professional experience, physician, psychiatrist, minister and writer Dr. Leeland Jones, MD, reflected on West’s challenges and considered a more holistic approach in his healing.  Jones, whose work is Christian based, urges people to have “compassion,” versus mocking the “Jesus Walks” artist. 

With years of experience, psychiatrist, Dr. Leeland Jones evaluated Kanye West’s most recent actions from a mental health perspective and urges people to treat the artist with compassion instead of judgement. (Courtesy Photo)
(AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

AFRO: Can you explain Bipolar disorder?

LJ: Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and behavior. People with bipolar disorder can experience both dramatic “highs,” called manic episodes, and “lows,” called depressive episodes. These episodes can last from hours to weeks, and many people have no symptoms between episodes. The primary symptoms of mania (like being on cocaine or speed) include: rapid hyper-talkative speech, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, easily distracted, agitation, violence, grandiose thoughts (like “I am the Messiah!) rapid mood swings, crying to happiness (sometimes at the same time).

Substance abuse and addiction are very common with Bipolar illness whether for self-medication, getting high or just trying to calm or even elevate the Bipolar roller coaster.

Kanye, 43, was reportedly initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2016 and Kim is concerned that he may be going through a manic period, reportedly even recently “pushing for a divorce.”

 In a 2019 interview in {Vogue} magazine, Kim openly discussed her husband’s mental health issues. She said that, in the past, Kanye found it hard to accept that he has Bipolar disorder, telling people that he was instead suffering from sleep deprivation. At that time, she said he accepted the diagnosis.

Speaking with David Letterman last year for his Netflix show, West explained that during his manic periods he may suffer from racing thoughts, irritability, sleep loss and paranoia. “When you’re in this state, you’re hyper-paranoid about everything…. Everything’s a conspiracy,” West said.

AFRO: What would you do if you were Kanye’s psychiatrist?

LJ: As a holistic psychiatrist, you tailor-make a treatment plan to treat the whole person (Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual) and not just a disease. With Bipolar especially we need to get the family involved. People can pull it together in the office and be totally different at home. Because people are complex, the treatment is complex, sometimes requiring several medications until the rest of the person’s life is restored and healed.

Dr. Jones also told the AFRO it’s important to look at Kanye’s family history for context in treating Bipolar disorder. 

AFROShould people be concerned about Kanye’s wellbeing?

LJ: Concerned yes, worried no! “Be careful for nothing.” We humans tend to gossip and throw shade rather than intercede and learn how we can help. Coach Tony Dungy tweeted that, though not politically correct, he liked that Governor Edwards of Louisiana is calling for a time of fasting and prayer, during this pandemic. Imagine what would change if churches and youth groups would come together and pray for their favorite stars, leaders and the celebs of their generation.

AFROWith medicine and the proper treatment is it possible to be a good leader/politician with such a health challenge?

LJ: You might be very surprised who has Bipolar and other serious mental conditions. Through the years I have treated judges, doctors, lawyers and successful millionaires. Famous people with depression and Bipolar illness include: Winston Churchill, Mariah Carey, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vivien Leigh Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vincent van Gogh, Jane Pauley, Mel Gibson and Paula Deen. (Note only one African-American in the group- Mariah Carey, who is also biracial).

There is a correlation between genius and mental illnessspiritual gifts and mental illness, and as you can imagine, spiritual warfare and mental illness. Most folks are not diagnosed, not treated and not properly treated- and one-third don’t have health insurance.

Due to horrible stressors like racism, prejudice and economic disparities, most African Americans avoid therapy for marriage, family parenting  and mental health issues. Medication is believed to be only for crazy people. Thankfully things are improving, due to Iyanla’s Fix My Life and other healthy media. Black folks are the most resilient. It is critical that we treat the Kanyes  in our community with compassion, intercession and understanding as a family and not judge or mock.

Dr. Leeland Jones, MD is a physician, psychiatrist, minister and writer. He is the author of “Becoming Whole,” a textbook on the maximized life. His focus has become webinars for counselors, ministers and leaders. He is a grandson of celebrated AFRO publisher Carl Murphy and AFRO Board member.