There are a thousand and one reasons to centre conversation today around America’s richest ever black billionaire, Kanye West. For reasons clear as day – humanity’s affinity for happy tales, we have collectively chosen to face one aspect: the latest wealth he amassed, $6.6bn worth of it.
It is worth reminding Nigerians of all demographics drooling over the continued success of Kanye West that he is everything hemmed and hawed – everything considered unworthy of success, in Nigeria.
What concerns this writer specifically is that Kanye West is a person living with Bipolar Disorder. A mental condition associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.
Wife, Kim Kardashian-West, in a 2019 interview in Vogue magazine, opened up about her husband’s mental health issues, revealing that he resisted accepting his diagnosis for a while. Why wouldn’t he?
It is not uncommon to see derisive commentary about people struggling with mental health.
Any Nigerian who claims to have missed this in our cultural discourse is being dishonest.
Far from the derision that mental illness invites, had Kanye been a Nigerian child, his mood swings would have invited physical and emotional abuse from adults and exclusion in addition to the former, from his peers.
He would hardly have been able to make anything of his wealth of talent as he wouldn’t have a good standing with peers to leverage and build on. Nor from adults who wouldn’t have enough empathy to extend a loving understanding for his unstable emotional states. This is assuming he makes it into adulthood without getting killed by the million+ things determined to kill us in Nigeria or his own depressive lows that will be met with little if any support system.
By Nigerians’ own wording, Kanye is a ‘mad person,’ and by Nigerians’ general understanding ‘mad people’ belong in mental asylums – pushed into the periphery of larger society one way or another, out of sight out of mind.
While we gawk and drool at the startling success of someone living with an often debilitating mental illness in the person of Kanye, this is a great opportunity for introspection.
We not only need a cultural revolution in the way we interact with the subject of mental illness, but we also need to push for a society where people dealing with it can seek help and enjoy support without denigration.
Whether mentally well or unwell, our human core remains the same. Seeing this human core regardless is the first step to an equitable world for all.