Written by Joshua Mansour, M.D., Contributing Writer for InFluential Magazine
A special episode of the Netflix show My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman airing May 31 features Kanye West describing how he manages his mental health, particularly his manic episodes. Kanye West does a public service proclaiming to the world that he lives with bipolar disorder, a condition in which an individual will experience mania and depression in varying degrees and at different times, with bouts of intense emotional states that can ultimately leave a person feeling helpless. In doing so, others are more likely to come forward to deal with their depression, mania or other health conditions.
The episode air date wrapped up the final day of National Mental Health Awareness Month, with Kanye describing some of these moments by explaining “you think everyone wants to kill you, you pretty much don’t trust anyone”. After years of speculation from many fans, especially after being hospitalized previously for “personal issues”, and then in November 2016 for a “psychiatric emergency” after canceling part of his tour West hinted at being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At that time he experienced an involuntary psychiatric hold which he admits to being “so happy that I experience myself so that I can start by changing the moment”. In 2018 he then released his album Ye which on the cover which included the phrase “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome”. There are also lyrics throughout his songs in the album which allude to this condition.
Given what he has experienced, the musician has used his platform to discuss this diagnosis. He has recently described his current stance and involvement in raising awareness by stating “It’s a health issue that has a strong stigma on it and people are allowed to say anything about it and discriminate in any way”. Many celebrities often times do not speak up to the public about their health issues, as they understandably and deservingly would like to keep certain matters private.
Several other celebrities have been outspoken about what diseases/illnesses have had an impact on their well-being. There have been a breadth of various diseases that have come to light and celebrities, athletes, and others in the spotlight have found several unique ways to share their information and raise awareness. In a time when society can be fixed on who is wearing the latest dress or suit, it is refreshing that several are using their platform in a different manner.
Larger organizations have as well called to the attention of “awareness”. The National Football League has continued to support breast cancer awareness during the month of October and the National Basketball Association has now started to raise awareness of again a very important but many times under-discussed topic – mental health awareness. The continued efforts of larger establishments to use their influence to educate and impact others is necessary and must be sustained.
However, it is important to note that there are times where simply being aware of a celebrities battle can have a different effect on the viewer’s behavior, a phrase coined as the “Angelina Jolie Effect”. This most notably occurred after her piece in The New York Times discussing results of her BRCA gene testing (having a positive mutation can put an individual at increased risk of certain cancers) leading to her preventative double mastectomy. In the two weeks following this, there was an over 60% rise in women in the United States undergoing testing for BRCA 1 and 2 genes. However, it was found these women who had the testing done actually had a lower pre-test probability of having the BRCA mutation.
Another potential downfall can be the several diet “fads” or unproven “medical treatments” that are claimed to be “miracle workers”. Although in some cases these particular diets or treatments may be beneficial, they should be met with caution. Awareness about the potential benefits is a good thing, but hastily jumping to conclusions about something that is endorsed by a celebrity “just because”, should be cautioned against.
In the end, having these multiple national awareness days/months and watching or listening to celebrities, athletes, and “influences” opening up about medical issues could be the first step in someone getting checked or asking for help. The impact of this is more than they even know. It is humbling to see how there are many who use it in a positive manner.
But there are many health conditions that don’t have their special month and go largely unnoticed. They even may be viewed as ‘taboo’ – until a celebrity or someone in the media takes a bold step forward to bring it into public consciousness.
About Joshua Mansour, MD:
Dr. Joshua Mansour is a board-certified hematologist/oncologist working and in the field of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and cellular immunotherapy in Stanford, California. Recently he has managed to have over 10 recent abstracts and over 10 recent manuscripts published in esteemed journals and given countless presentations at conferences and other institutions. He has helped design and implement clinical studies to evaluate current treatment plans, collaborated on grant proposals, and lead multi-institutional retrospective studies that have been published.