A Bad Day For Understanding Mental Health Care–The Kanye-Trump Show

My take on the recent visit of Kanye West to the Oval Office may be different than yours.  In a 10 minute rambling monologue that left even President Trump speechless, Kanye touched on a wide range of topics, from replacing Air Force One to abolishing the 13th amendment.  I am bothered by how the spectacle has been managed by the media and by how the democratic/republican tribe leaders spun what he said to suit their talking points.  But what bothers me most is how a display of apparent symptoms of mental illness was not identified for what is was.  Buried in the tangential thought processes and looseness of associations were Kanye’s personal points of view and policy recommendations.  If such a display occurred in my office, I have little doubt about what I would be recommending.  What I saw has been influenced by the publicly available information about Kanye and his mental health issues. Having never met Mr. West or had a confidential clinical conversations with him, my assessments are limited to that publicly available information. My understanding is that he has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (he has publicly admitted this).  He has refused to take the medication that has been prescribed and his family is worried about him, but stands behind him and supports him (like a family should).  His symptoms have been extreme enough to require psychiatric hospitalization.  I also understand him to be a highly creative, perhaps genius-level musician who has parlayed his creative energy into super-stardom and fame (even though it is not to be found in my personal Spotify playlist).

I disagree with many of Kanye’s points of view, but that is not the point of this writing.  It is how the presentation of his points of view were delivered in a manner that laid bare his apparently untreated mental health issues.  In the same way, I would not find it acceptable for the president to bring a profoundly depressed and suicidal person into his office and allow a barrage of media to film expressions of plans for self harm.  Nor would it be acceptable for a patient with florid psychotic symptoms to occupy the leader of the free world’s time with expressions of paranoid delusions for the whole country to dissect.  And I would expect better from the media who, in my opinion, should not glamorize his behavior and use it as a source of validation of their assessments of the administration.

This country has many, many people of color who are highly educated, well read, well respected, and intelligent.  Some of those people agree with the current administration enough to warrant a visit to the Oval Office to explain their points-of-view in a way that could support the president’s agenda.  Instead, what we got was a spectacle that spun into a media circus that (perhaps intentionally) fed into the narrative of both of the authors of this event.  I would be more reassured if, instead of creating a media frenzy that ignored the behavioral health aspects of this, the event was identified for what it was–the ranting of a person with uncontrolled Biplolar Disorder (by his admission) used as a marketing tool for political means.

As an advocate for appropriate treatment for those with emotional health issues and the removal of the social/professional stigma that comes with a mental health diagnosis, this event was a travesty.  I urge you to take a moment to examine your own tendency to judge someone with mental health issues. When someone is not in good control, is it really the right thing to do to make fun of them?  To belittle them?  Or to use them for your own purpose, whether that purpose is to sell yourself as a friend of people of color or if that purpose is to fill up air-time and sell advertising space on your show?

I think not.

–Dan Hartman, MD


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