The Kardashian-Wests are well used to being the subject of headlines, but as of recently the attention on them has been of a slightly different nature to usual. After recently announcing his intentions to run for President of the United States in the upcoming 2020 election, Kanye West broke down in tears during a speech at a campaign rally.

While the family, and Kim in particular, has built her career on the back of making every detail of her life public via reality television and social media, Kanye himself has been known to be a somewhat more private person generally. However, one aspect of his personal life he has not been shy about sharing with the world is his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which he’s previously referred to as a ‘superpower’.

In the modern day, of course, the few hundred supporters at Kanye’s rally were not the only ones to witness his emotional breakdown, with videos soon circulating across social media for the world to see. And as the online reaction rolled in, it paints a picture of how mental illness is talked about and treated in society today. And unfortunately, even in our current world of increased mental health awareness, it seems that picture might not always be quite as pretty as we might expect.

Despite the increase in advocacy that it’s ‘okay not to be okay’, both on and offline, it’s clear that in many ways, mental illness is still not well understood, and that stigma still remains, especially around more ‘complex’ conditions such as bipolar disorder. I say this as someone who is by no means an expert in this illness myself, either. Reading the news about Kanye, I was prompted to read more into the condition and how it affects people who are living with it. According to the NHS, bipolar disorder affects a person’s mood, causing it to swing from one extreme to another – from depression, which involves feeling very low, to mania, or feeling very high and overactive. During these ‘episodes’, a person may also experience hallucinations, delusions or psychosis, causing them to believe things that are irrational to others, and behave in ways that they wouldn’t usually. This can result in the person undertaking risky behaviours, and can be disruptive to their life. Contrary to popular belief, the NHS states that the illness is fairly common - around one in every 100 people will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

It’s likely that Kanye’s behaviour at the rally may have been a result of a manic episode, and he has since publicly apologised on Twitter. His apology came after a statement from Kim on her Instagram page, where she addressed Kanye’s mental health, something she has not spoken out about before but felt she had to now due to ‘the stigma and misconceptions about mental health’. She tackled the commentary that had taken place across the internet in the time following the rally, in which many questioned why ‘the family’ were not helping Kanye by placing him in rehab or therapy for his illness. Many others laughed and mocked Kanye’s run for presidency, calling him “bonkers”. “Sure, he’s not right in the head,” was echoed across platforms.

Indeed, some may not realise the harm in making such remarks, but indeed, as Kim highlighted within her statement, this sort of reaction doesn’t reflect the compassion and understanding that is needed when it comes to mental illness. Is it the case we believe that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ so long as the symptoms of mental ill-health are not too difficult to deal with? In some ways, this can be apparent with all mental health conditions. Many may claim to be in the corner of those suffering from depression and anxiety, until they begin to present hard to deal with symptoms. If a person finds it hard to motivate themselves to even get out of bed in the morning, to keep their house clean or wash themselves, they may be viewed as lazy rather than ill. If a person is too anxious to perform tasks many might consider easy, they might be called dramatic or silly. And similarly, once a person needs to take time off work because of their illness, despite anti-discrimination laws being in place, many might still fear a stigma and being labelled ‘unreliable’.

And this issue is even more apparent when it comes to complex mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, and similarly, OCD and personality disorders, as a result of which many people are often stigmatised and labelled as ‘crazy’ - or ‘not right in the head’.

Accusations against the wider family who are blamed for ‘not helping’ the person living with the illness can be equally unhelpful. Kim pointed out that family are ‘powerless’ unless they are dealing with a child. Kanye is his own person, and as with every type of illness, he cannot be treated against his will. This attitude that the onus is on those around the ill person to intervene and have them ‘fixed’, or that indeed it is somehow the family’s fault are harmful. It also neglects to consider whether Kanye is able to engage with treatment, something which may be made more difficult, ironically, by his illness. Of course, the care and compassion of those close to the person may help them, but ultimately it is not the ‘fault’ of anyone that they are mentally ill – including the person themselves, and nor is it a result of them not trying hard enough to ‘fix’ it.

All of us can do a little to better understand mental illness, particularly those conditions that we may not hear about so often. There are many resources out there, for free online, where you can read up on different conditions and their symptoms. And ultimately, the key is compassion. If we can make it a habit to approach the topic of others and their ‘issues’ with kindness and understanding, and address misunderstanding and harmful attitudes when we see them, we can keep chipping away at the stigma that remains.