Going public

In response to her husband’s recent public statements and reported behavior, Kim Kardashian West posted a statement to her social media feeds today asking for compassion and empathy for Kanye West. Kanye has spoken publicly about living with bipolar disorder and included references to it in his music. Because of his celebrity, the situation has garnered a lot of attention.

There are aspects of Kim’s statement that I find problematic, in particular the association of madness and genius. The idea that there is a connection between brilliant creativity and mental illness has led people to not seek treatment in the past, afraid that addressing their condition would compromise their innovation. However, considered as a whole, Kim’s statement is one of the most honest, authentic, and stark commentaries I have seen written by someone whose partner is living with mental illness.

Having been present with others who are struggling and also as someone struggling myself, I recognize the heartbreak in her words. No matter how much you love the other person, you cannot make them seek or maintain treatment. How they act while in the throes of their condition is also not a referendum on how they feel about you.

I count myself lucky to be surrounded by people who have loved and supported me through my depression. As I’ve written before, I am in the privileged position of having people around me, including and especially my healthcare providers, who believe me and take my symptoms seriously. Many others are not in a similar position. There is still so much work to do to destigmatize mental health in our society. I hope that transparency, like the kind Kim demonstrated, contributes to a better future for everyone affected by mental health challenges and those who love them.

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