Kim Kardashian West opens up about Kanye's mental health: Why myths about bipolar are so damaging

Marie Claire Dorking
·6-min read

Kim Kardashian West has opened up about her husband Kanye West’s mental health for the first time, discussing the impact his bipolar disorder has on the family.

“As many of you know, Kanye has bipolar disorder,” she wrote on Instagram via her stories.

“Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand.”

She added that her husband is a “brilliant but complicated person” whose “words sometimes do not align with his intentions”.

In her message, shared Wednesday, the reality TV star said she had not previously spoken publicly about how her husband’s mental health had affected the family “because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health”.

Kim Kardashian West has opened up about her husband, Kanye's bipolar disorder, pictured here in February 2020. (Getty Images)
Kim Kardashian West has opened up about her husband, Kanye's bipolar disorder, pictured here in February 2020. (Getty Images)

She continued: “But today, I feel like I should comment on it because of the stigma and misconceptions about mental health.

“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behaviour know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor.

“People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgemental and not understand that the individual themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”

She went on to urge others to give the family time to work through the issues they are dealing with.

“We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most.

“I kindly ask that the media and public give us the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this.”

Read more: Four simple tips to help reduce anxiety in these uncertain times

What is bipolar disorder?

Three million people in the UK have bipolar, according to national support charity Bipolar UK.

The charity says it takes an average of nine years to get a correct diagnosis of bipolar.

According to the NHS, people who suffer from bipolar disorder might have depressive episodes of feeling low and lethargic followed by manic episodes of feeling high in energy and overactive.

Mood swings, which are more commonly experienced, are not the same as episodes of bipolar.

The main difference is that bipolar episodes can last for several weeks and tend to be more extreme than mood swings.

Whilst the depressed side of bipolar is quite widely talked about - it involves feelings of worthlessness and having a low mood - the manic stages that bipolar people often experience isn’t discussed as often and this can lead to misconceptions.

“People who are going through the manic stages of bipolar might feel overly happy, have ambitious plans and talk really quickly,” psychotherapist, Christine Elvin, previously told Yahoo UK.

“They also might feel more reckless in their behaviour, which might include buying things they can’t afford – and would otherwise not really be interested in buying.”

This is in alignment with the NHS symptom tracker, which says that some people with bipolar disorder view the manic stage of the condition as a “positive” experience.

Read more: Why you shouldn't ignore feelings of stress during the coronavirus pandemic

There are many common misconceptions about bipolar disorder. (Getty Images)
There are many common misconceptions about bipolar disorder. (Getty Images)

Though the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, it is believed a number of things can trigger an episode.

These include extreme stress, overwhelming problems and life-changing events, as well as genetic and chemical factors.

According to the NHS, many people who suffer from bipolar will find that the highs and lows of the mental health condition interfere with their everyday life.

Thankfully, there are numerous ways to treat it, which include mood stabilisers, therapy and medicine to treat the symptoms of depression and mania separately.

“It’s thought using a combination of different treatment methods is the best way to control bipolar disorder,” the NHS explains.

Myths surrounding bipolar disorder

As Kardashian West hinted at in her Instagram post, one of the most common issues people who live with bipolar face, is dealing with other people’s misconceptions about the condition.

“Many people have heard of bipolar disorder, but this doesn’t mean they understand the diagnosis fully,” explains the mental health charity Mind.

“You might find that some people have misconceptions about you or have a negative or inaccurate image of bipolar disorder.

“This can be very upsetting, especially if someone who feels this way is a friend, colleague, family member or a healthcare professional.”

According to Bipolar UK, some of the common myths about the condition include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Bipolar disorder is just mood swings, everyone gets them

  • Mania is fun, you just feel really happy

  • People who live with bipolar disorder are violent, aggressive and dangerous

  • If you have bipolar disorder, you’re either depressed or manic

  • People with bipolar disorder cannot work or be successful

Read more: A third of young people 'struggling' to emotionally support partners during lockdown

Why the myths surrounding bipolar and other health conditions are so damaging

As well as being upsetting for sufferers, the myths surrounding the condition also invite stigma towards people living with bipolar, which in turn could limit the support, understanding and treatment they receive.

“Attitudes towards mental health problems are improving, but common misconceptions are leaving some conditions behind,” explains George Hoare, head of programme management at Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

Sadly, stigma and misunderstanding remain rife around less common mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and bipolar disorder.

Our research shows 84% of people with experience of a mental health problem don't believe perceptions of less common conditions have improved in the last 10 years.

“Worryingly, 27% of people with a less common mental health problem feel that discrimination against them has actually increased in the last ten years.

“Some people hold unhelpful beliefs about what bipolar disorder means. For example, thinking of bipolar disorder as being like having dual or split personalities, or that it is just ‘moodiness’.

“Similarly, joking about or trivialising mental health problems is extremely damaging, as this can make people feel isolated and alone. Misconceptions fuel negative attitudes and make it even harder for those of us with a mental health problem to speak out and seek support.”

For further information about bipolar disorder visit Bipolar UK, Mind or Time To Change.

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