On Wednesday, July 15th, a public affairs officer for the Oklahoma Board of Elections confirmed, to New York Magazine, Kanye West’s formal entrance into the presidential campaign. While it’s unlikely he’ll do well (since he faces many obstacles, including the deadline to appear on the ballot passing in 8 other states and many states requiring more than a check for a third-party candidate to appear on the ballot), ‘Kanye 2020’ may be indicative of a manic episode.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and behavior. It affects nearly 6 million adults in the U.S. or about 2.6% of the population over the age of 18. The median age of onset is 25 years, although the illness can start as early as childhood or as late as 40s or 50s. It affects men and women equally and is found in all racial, ethnic, and social classes/groups.
Those with this disorder experience both dramatic “highs” (called manic episodes) and extreme “lows” (called depressive episodes) – with many people having no symptoms in between episodes. While much has been written about the depressive side of bipolar disorder, there is less material available on the manic side.
Mania can range from mild (known as hypomania) to severe; at its most extreme, mania can trigger delusions, violence, and an increased risk of suicide. Depending on the cause, a manic episode can last anywhere from several days to several months and will typically increase in severity—and in the level of agitation—as it progresses. Milder mania is more likely to be associated with positive outcomes, like increased productivity or greater feelings of optimism.
On his 2018 album Ye, West revealed his diagnosis of bipolar disorder (received at the age of 39), by describing it as a “superpower” in his song “Yikes”. However, the first song on the album hints at something much darker, as he makes the statement: “If I was trying to relate it to more people, I’d probably say I’m struggling with loving myself because that seems like a common theme. But that’s not the case here. I love myself way more than I love you. And I think about killing myself.”
Shortly after the album was released, West spoke with David Letterman on his Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction and explained how taking medication every day can “ramp him up” which can be a double-edged sword: “When you ramp up, it expresses your personality more” and you have “a heightened connection with the universe” (as well as more energy and productivity). He admitted that during his manic periods he may suffer from racing thoughts, irritability, sleep loss, and paranoia, or psychosis. “When you’re in this state, you’re hyper-paranoid about everything… Everything’s a conspiracy. You feel the government is putting chips in your head. You feel you’re being recorded. You feel all these things.”
“Kanye West is like anyone with bipolar disorder who is not getting effective treatment,” says Psychology Today’s Julie Fast, author of Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, and Get it Done When You’re Depressed. “He does well for a while and then the illness creeps up and a new manic episode begins. He then interacts more with the press because the ideas are flowing. As the mania increases and he becomes more psychotic, he starts to make manic/psychotic statements that lead to bizarre interviews and world headlines about his behavior.”
“For those who don’t understand bipolar disorder, his behavior appears like the bragging grandiosity cultivated in the rapping world,” concludes Fast. However, the argument could be made that most of West’s contributions to OMG moments in pop culture were actually manic episodes – making him an excellent case study on the side of this disorder that many may not be aware of or have had tangible examples of.
MTV’S VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS 2009
Bipolar symptoms: impulsivity, expansive mood
“Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish. But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time! One of the best videos of all time!”
10 years after that unforgettable pop culture moment (which has been scrubbed from MTV’s archives and is only available in bootleg versions on YouTube), former MTV staff writer Jayson Rodriquez recalls the image of West on the red carpet, with “the Hennessy bottle, that leather shirt open to his navel, dark glasses… and holding the neck of that bottle and seeing the level of it go down and down in picture after picture, as he made it into the venue and kept drinking… That struck me. It was uncharacteristic. His bombast, the interruption, fighting for what he believes in, that seemed normal-ish — now it’s his hallmark — but those images were very stark.”
Alcohol is known to intensify bipolar disorder symptoms due to its sedating effects – acting similarly to some medications, risking feelings of depression with each swig. It also greatly increases the severity of mania, adding to the “high” and exacerbating bipolar symptoms associated with impaired judgment (including an apparent lack of insight into the consequences of an action, inappropriate humor, brash and sexually provocative behaviors).
SACRAMENTO’S GOLDEN 1 CENTER 2016
Bipolar symptoms: fatigue, incoherent speech (often described as rambling and persistent)
In the fall of 2016, West’s wife was robbed at gunpoint at a luxury residence in Paris. Shortly after, West was hospitalized and placed under observation after suffering from exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
The hospitalization came after a bizarre series of incidents involving the hip-hop superstar, including putting on a disorganized fashion show; rants endorsing Donald Trump, and calling out Beyoncé and Jay Z; canceling the remainder of his Saint Pablo Tour; and posting 99 photos in the span of 3 hours of (what appear to be French luxury Maison Martin Margiela designs from the late ’90s to early 2000s) to his previously spare Instagram feed in the hours before he was transported to the hospital.
“Sleep deprivation alone is very severe and can cause all kinds of conditions… and when someone gets into a manic phase where they don’t sleep for days, they can get a powerful high from that manic energy and then crash,” says Rusty Selix, a California lawyer, mental health advocate and director of policy and advocacy at the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.
TMZ HEADQUARTERS 2018
Bipolar symptoms: racing thoughts
In the Spring of 2018, West appeared at the TMZ headquarters and made the remark: “When you hear about slavery for 400 years… For 400 years? That sounds like a choice… it’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.” Immediately he was confronted by TMZ employee, Van Lathan who stated, “While you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that’s come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice.” Lathan added, “Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled, and brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something to me, that’s not real.”
The encounter ended with West saying how he understood Lathan’s point of view. He then went to Twitter to clarify his statement: “To make myself clear. Of course, I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved.”
He later acknowledged his statement and its connection to his disorder. “Think about people that have mental issues that are not Kanye West, that can’t go and make that [an album] and make it feel like it’s all good. Think about somebody that does exactly what I did at TMZ … at work… and they [lose] their job … That’s why God put that on me at age 40,” he said.
2020 PRESIDENTIAL BID
Bipolar symptoms: increased interest in goal-oriented activities
Currently, it feels as history is repeating as West’s behaviors mimics similar behaviors he demonstrated after Kim Kardashian’s return from Paris in 2016. In that case, the robbery was the antecedent. In this instance; the nation’s social unrest is.
Since Memorial Day Weekend, West has set up a fund to cover the cost of university for George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter; donated $2 million to other causes including several black-owned businesses in America; paid the legal fees of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor; released a song about race and faith; and joined protestors in a march to Chicago Police Department’s headquarters to demand that more money be invested into schooling rather than policing.
Then, earlier this month, July 4th to be exact, West announced that he was running for President. A few days later, he did a 4-hour interview with Forbes magazine where he made statements such as he’s running for president in 2020 under the new banner of the Birthday Party; he’s suspicious of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, as vaccines are “the mark of the beast”; he believes “Planned Parenthoods have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the Devil’s work”; and he envisions a White House organizational model like the nation of Wakanda from Black Panther.
Several reports have come out, including one from TMZ, stating that family and those close to him are worried about him but believe that things will stabilize as they have in the past. TMZ’s ‘Kanye sources’ told them, West suffers serious bouts with his bipolar disorder (usually once a year) and that he’s in one now.
Unfortunately, when someone is experiencing a manic episode, there is not much you can do to pull them out of it (especially without the use of medication). As the weeks continue, we’ll see just how serious West is about his presidential bid but I have a feeling that this may end up being just one more of those OMG pop culture moments (…or at least, here’s hoping).
Letterman: “What is the mechanism that is malfunctioning or
is taking a break in your brain, do you know?”
West: “I wouldn’t be able to explain that as much just because, you know, I’m not a doctor. I can just tell you what I’m feeling at the time, and I feel a heightened
connection with the universe when I’m ramping up. It is a health issue —
it’s like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle.”
- Berman MD, Michele and Boguski MD PhD, Mark. Understanding Kanye West’s Bipolar Disorder. MedPage Today. July 2020.
- Billboard. Mental Health Experts Weigh in on Kanye West’s Continued Hospitalization. Billboard. 2016.
- Fast, Julie A. Is Kanye West Just a Grandiose, Attention-Seeking Rapper? Psychology Today. July 2020.
- Lane, Randell. Kanye West Says He’s Done with Trump—Opens Up About White House Bid, Damaging Biden And Everything in Between. Forbes. July 2020.
- Healthline Editorial Team and Kathryn Watson. Could it be Bipolar Disorder? 14 Signs to Look for. Healthline. 2020.
- Psychology Today. Mania. Psychologytoday.com.
- Purse, Marcia. Understanding the Symptoms of Bipolar Mania. Verywell Mind. 2019.
- Smith, David. Kanye West declares he will run for president in 2020. The Guardian. July 2020.
- CBS News. Kanye West opens up about his struggle with bipolar disorder: “it’s like a sprained brain”. CBS. 2019.