August 20, 2017

Does Kanye West Need Psychological Help?

Is Kanye mentally ill?  Perhaps.  Would he benefit from psychological help?  Absolutely.  Is he really that different from the rest of us?  Maybe not as much as we’d like to think. Kanye West’s mental health: an analysis.

Kanye West is at it again.  The erratic and confusing (although sometimes amusing) antics of Kanye continue to dominate the entertainment industry.  However, recent developments have started to cast a cloud over how amused or concerned people are about Kanye West and his mental health.  In truth, people have been speculating about his mental and emotional wellbeing for some time.

In a rare display of public disclosure, a longtime member of Kanye’s inner circle has spoken out about his growing concern and worries about the artist. Rhymefest is the co-writer of Yeezy’s hits “Jesus Walks” and “New Slaves.” Rhymefest is a Grammy and Oscar award winning songwriter.  And on February 12, 2016, Kanye’s longtime friend and collaborator took to Twitter to voice his growing concerns about his friend not being mentally or spiritually well.  Rhymefest pleaded for Kanye to find healing through a professional and recommended him to “step away from the public & yesmen & heal.”

Rhymefest’s Tweets only added to the growing confusion and concern about Kayne West’s psychological state in recent weeks.

His long-awaited, much-hyped album, The Life of Pablo, is now available to stream exclusively on Tidal.  The album was dropped following his appearance on Saturday Night Live.  But the roll-out of the album adds to his recent bizarre behaviors.  The album was announced as far back as 2014.  The Life of Pablo has gone through several changes in title names and song tracks.  Kanye tweeted on Feburary 10 it would be out that day … only it wasn’t released, nor was it released at the listening party and Yeezy Season 3 fashion show the following day.

The Life of Pablo features a controversial lyric about Taylor Swift which the pop singer, her friends, and fans have condemned as “misogynistic”. Kanye has defended his lyrics and claimed that Swift approved the words on ‘Famous’ in advance.

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698146344242958336?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Then, just as quickly as it was made available, Kanye West withdrew his new album a day after officially releasing it, claiming that he wasn’t finished working on one of the tracks.

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698971890581401600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698972107166892032?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

His recent Twitter beef with Wiz Khalifa and his one-off tweet of Bill Cosby’s innocence actually overshadowed the actual release of his album.

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/697199554807099394

Most recently he has revealed that he is $53 million in personal debt, even making a personal pitch for Mark Zuckerberg to invest in him.

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698699904303132672?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698926987281371136?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Not content with only propositioning the inventor of Facebook, Kanye also tweeted out to Larry Page, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet.

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/699108230371397632?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

While all of this could simply be a large-scale publicity strategy, questions about Kanye mental health always accompany his quirky antics.  People throw all types of complaints and criticisms at Kanye.  Some are more legitimate than others.  But the question isn’t whether or not Kanye West has issues, but rather, how unique are Kanye’s problems to the rest of the American population.

Kanye West may be a narcissist, but who isn’t these days?

Research reveals that people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s are the most narcissistic, individualistic, and self-absorbed generation in recorded history.  Why would we think Kanye West wouldn’t befall the same fate?  Although he was born in 1978, his target audience fits that age range. Kanye has a very high, perhaps inflated, sense of himself, his talent, and his importance.  Trust me when I declare he’s not the only person who exhibits narcissistic traits.

Kanye West is a master self-promoter, but is his art suffering from his celebrity and personal brand?

Kayne’s public behavior is consistent with the cultural shift toward personal branding and status.  For Kanye and his circle (especially the Kardashians) celebrity is just as important as accomplishment.  In fact, Kanye may not see any distinction between the two; he is his art, and therefore, his celebrity status and personal brand transcends even his musical output.  The nature of celebrity has always required a degree of self-promotion.  Now that today’s millennials also encapsulate that outlook, it makes sense that today’s celebrities take self-promotion and personal branding to a higher level.  No one seems to take up that mantle more than Kanye.

Kanye West is highly sensitive and anxious, but who isn’t these days?

Is Kanye a covert narcissist?  Such folks are prone to feelings of neglect or belittlement, hypersensitivity, anxiety, and delusions of persecution.  Does that sound like a certain rapper?  But again, is Kanye’s sensitivity that different from the age of anxiety and entitlement we currently find ourselves facing in American culture?  Social media and other news outlets have been covering the topic of anxiety and stress.  Our society is inundated with anxiety and its impact on parenting, teens, quarter life crisis, college campuses and trigger warnings, etc., etc., etc.  Is Kanye simply a byproduct or representation of a generation of people that are highly sensitive, easily offended, expect others to change, and lack thick skin when dealing with criticism or setbacks?  There is debate as to whether or not this generation is the most anxious and stressed, but they are the demographic most likely to publicly broadcast their anxiety and stress.

It’s hard to defend Kanye every time he goes on a Twitter rant (plus, that’s becoming more and more a full-time job).  But are his offenses that different than what we see in a lot of non-celebrities?  Do you know anyone who uses social media for their soapbox, someone who shuts down others with dissenting opinions, and rants and raves online?  Ever been on Reddit?  I don’t say that to defend Kanye but to provide a degree of context that suggests his behavior is more the norm than the outlier.

Kanye West lacks resilient traits, but who doesn’t these days?

Psychologists have talked about the power of perception in facing trauma or adversity in life.  They also talk about the presence or absence of resilient traits surfacing only when facing adversity.  There are small, but nevertheless significant, examples that spotlight how poorly Kanye sometimes manages his life.

Locus of control:

Simply put, Kanye likes to blame other people for a lot of his troubles and he likes to publicly blame them.  The more an individual adheres to an external locus of control, the more they develop a victim mentality.  Kayne’s propensity to blame others and see himself as a victim in his own life prevents him from ever taking responsibility for his own actions.

Desire to make positive contribution to society:

Research repeatedly talks about how service to others increases mental wellbeing and also balances the tendency to become overly preoccupied with self.  Kanye’s narcissism and inflated sense of woes would benefit from some “perspective” from others.  But again, Kanye is not alone.  He merely represents a generation that is the most individualistic in recorded history.

Because really, who wouldn’t benefit from a little more concern and empathy for others?  Studies indicate that this generation scores lower on empathy than in generation’s past.  Can we excoriate Kanye for his lack of empathy and perspective without denouncing the entire millennial generation?  I’m not ready to act on either of those options.

Self-control:

One only needs to google Kayne’s Twitter rants to see the man has difficulty with impulsivity.  You could also point to his award show behavior, especially when Beyonce loses..  Although his propensity to rush an award show stage is now a part of his public persona, Kanye mirrors a culture that is hardwired for instant gratification and reacting before thinking about the consequences.  His impulsivity may be more extreme (and more public) but Kayne certainly doesn’t stand alone in lacking this resilient trait.

Mistakes and adversities are opportunities to grow:

It’s difficult to grow and learn if you lack an internal locus of control.  If Kanye believes he doesn’t contribute to his problems, then there is no need to change his outlook or behavior.  Consequently, Kanye will probably experience the same problems that have plagued his life over and over until the cycle can be broken.  It starts with Kanye.

Openness to help:

This resilient trait recently took on greater importance with the pronouncement by Rhymefest that Kanye is not mentally or spiritually well.  He encouraged Kanye to seek out mental health counseling.  Is Rhymefest onto something about Kanye’s state of mind?  And how willing or resistant would Kanye be to letting a mental health professional help him cope and manage his ever-expanding life?  That is the biggest unanswered question.

Kanye West is racially divisive and culturally provocative, but isn’t that also a sign of our times?

Love him or hate him, Kayne is following in the footsteps of many artists who have used their platforms to be a racial lightning rod, similar to Marvin Gaye with his 1971 album What’s Going On?  Kayne has spoken about race in relation to dating and marrying Kim Kardashian and also on the issue raising a black child.  He refuses to back away from issues of racial stereotyping and discrimination.

Kanye is not the only person that aggressively pushes for dialogue about race and discrimination.  In 2016 alone, the entertainment industry has been faced with the controversy over #OscarsSoWhite.  The NFL has seen Cam Newton be a lightning rod for conversations around discrimination, prejudices, and double-standards.  Beyonce’s recent music video for “Formation” and her Super Bowl halftime show spurred such a visceral reaction for many that SNL lampooned it with one of its classic sketches.

If Kanye’s abrasiveness toward race and discrimination is unsettling, it’s because the American culture continues to struggle with issues of race and discrimination.

Why Kanye West is so successful?

Despite all that has proceeded in this article, Kanye West continues to a cultural phenomenon that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  Why?  Because Kanye also represents the “best” of this millennial generation and shares many of the habits that make this generation more successful than older people.  Why is Kanye so successful?  First off, his talent is off-the-charts.  Second, his ambition and drive is singular in purpose.  Kanye wants to be the greatest (and in his mind he may already be there).  Third, Kanye is clear about his vision and purpose.  Like the millennial generation, he multitasks, embraces technology.  Finally, Kanye West works hard at his craft, maybe to a fault.  One could argue his perfectionism is complicating the release of The Life of Pablo.

Is Kanye West’s Mental Health Suffering?

Maybe, but it would only be consistent with what we know about this generation.  From high school to college campuses and beyond, our culture is waking up to the great need for mental health attention.  Most students are not ready for the emotional demands of college. Young adults are also struggling in the workforce due to the emotional demands of stress and handling setbacks early on in their professional careers.

Listen, I’m not the type of person who is all down and critical of today’s young people.  In fact, I’m probably more of the opposite.  I reference all these traits about the millennial generation not to bury them.  I am merely attempting to showcase how much of Kanye’s perceived problems and character defects are also prevalent in much of today’s society.  I’m not ready to excoriate every millennial, so why would I act that way toward Kanye if he’s like many young celebrities and non-celebrities of this generation?

But Kanye West isn’t like everybody else … and that’s not just the narcissist speaking.  Despite Kanye representing the cultural landscape, there are two potential areas that are unique to Kanye that can greatly contribute to his overall mental wellbeing.

Support System, Enablers, and Yesmen:

Having a strong support system of people is crucial not only in facing stressful events in life, but it also can keep a person’s individualism in check.  Kanye will greatly suffer if he does not have influential people in his life that give him wise counsel and feedback.  A support system will challenge and confront Kanye about his overall wellbeing and not just his celebrity status.  They will be a voice of reason in an industry where the amount of pressure, demands, and false praise can easily confuse a person.

Kanye’s enablers and yesmen, on the other hand, will not challenge and confront him because (1) they do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, or (2) they miscalculate what is in Kanye’s best interest, mistaking money, fame, or his approval as the path to greater happiness.

Media Scrutiny:

The biggest difference that separates Kanye West from his millennial fans is the amount of public scrutiny and negative coverage he endures, regardless of how much one believes he’s asking for it.  Kanye struggles with his attention-seeking acts and the public excoriating he gets at every turn.  Regardless of whether you empathize with him or believe he’s asked for the critical drubbing he receives, the amount of negative press impacts his mental outlook.

Is Kanye West Mentally Ill?

Is Kanye West going to flame out?  Will the internal and external pressures and stress take an irreversible toll on him?  I cannot say.  But whenever I hear about mental health concerns for a musician, I think of my favorite artist growing up; Michael Jackson.  He was a brilliant but troubled artist and both were apparent early on in his career.  Over time, his personal demons and lack of a strong support network drove him further and further away from a healthy and happy life.  I hope Kanye West doesn’t befall the same fate.

Regardless of whether he’s in a state of psychological crisis or struggling with the demands of his life, Kanye would greatly benefit from support and perspective from anyone who only cares about one thing – his psychological wellbeing.

“The Life of Pablo” features Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, Young Thug, and Kid Cudi, and others.  It is currently available to stream over on Tidal.

Official Kanye West Webpage

Other articles by Jonathan Hetterly:

Should These Arizona Teens Be Expelled For This Racist Photo?

Cam Newton: His Long, Tumultuous Climb to NFL MVP

Dear Walking Dead: Please Don’t Kill Glenn

Mumford & Sons at a Crossroads: Are They Changing Their Tune for Good?

 

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Jonathan Hetterly, LPC

Jonathan Hetterly is a therapist, writer, and pop culture addict. He’s also a contributor to The Shrink Tank podcast. Follow him at @jhetterly and @shrink_tank.

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5 Comments

  1. The dude does big time. He needs Hetterly.

  2. He has ADHD, is bipolar: http://www.genius.com/Kanye-west-gossip-files-lyrics

    and talks about taking lexapro in two of his songs (U Mad and FML).

  3. Hetterly you gave this emotional train wreck basket case waaaaay too many passes and credit yeah talented as far as selling your soul will take you but a mental travesty in all other areas of his life

  4. So Kanye West isn’t even technically a millenial – and the author still used his struggles as an opportunity to bash approximately 18 million people. Nice.

  5. Generalizing Bullshit Disorder: A Common and Important Malady Among Idiots Who Have Massive Educational Debt and a few degrees in Psychology

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