What does it look like to be mentally ill? Kanye West made an appearance on TMZ yesterday, and it seemed that there were two camps: those who took his words as evidence that he is suffering from a mental illness, and those who took his steady tone and intelligibility as evidence that he’s not suffering from a mental illness. But the truth is that neither of those indicators is reliable evidence of mental illness, or of how a mental illness is affecting that person.

We need to start by remembering that mental illness comes in a lot of different flavours. There are some which promote anxiety, some promote depression, some promote disordered thinking, some promote distorted perception, some promote compulsive behaviour, and this is not an exhaustice list. But even this doesn’t begin to survey how these conditions manifest. Is a person who has visual or auditory hallucinations going to present as mentally ill when they’re speaking to you? Maybe not. Can a person who suffers from anxiety capable of presenting as supremely confident? Absolutely!

I thought it was particularly remarkable when Kanye said that they shouldn’t be yelling because it will make them sound crazy. And I think he’s right. We too often imagine that people are either sick or healthy. That a person who is “sick” will be pervasively sick, and will therefore look sick. And so, if a person wants to make the case that someone else is mentally ill, they’ll choose a moment in which that person is yelling or has lost their train of thought or looks disheveled. But just as someone can give a rambling speech without it being attributable to mental illness, a person can give a very eloquent speech which is entirely the product of their mental illness.

Genius and mental illness are not mutually exclusive. Elegance and mental illness are not mutually exclusive. Evil is not a necessary product of mental illness. Ignorance is not a necessary product of mental illness.

Kanye is evidently acutely aware of the effect that his tone and manner of speech will have on people’s perception of the content of that speech. Does that indicate a degree of rationality which precludes mental illness? No. Is it evidence of a conscious deception to perform mental fitness? No.

I think that we can evaluate the content of his speech and character without needing to publicly speculate about his mental health. And I think I have all the evidence I need to say that Kanye is a charismatic, conceited and ignorant wordsmith.The rest, I’ll leave to his doctors.

Posted in: Progress

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