Even before Kanye West’s meeting with President Trump concluded Thursday, the Oval Office meeting had gone viral, sparking reactions on everything from the rapper’s MAGA hat to his iPhone password. But one of the less meme-worthy moments of their discussion was the 41-year-old musician’s reference to his own mental health — specifically, his own alleged misdiagnosis.
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” West said, referring to a condition he first opened up about in June. “I was connected with a neuropsychologist that works with the athletes in the NBA and NFL. He looked at my brain; he put on three prongs … and he said I wasn’t actually bipolar; I had sleep deprivation.”
The comment was a major departure from West’s previous discussions of bipolar disorder, in which he has called it his “superpower.”
West didn’t say when he received the new explanation about his behavior issues, but he went on to say that the neuropsychologist he saw told him that lack of sleep was dangerous. “[He said] it could cause dementia 10 to 20 years from now where I wouldn’t even remember my son’s name,” West told Trump. “So all this power that I got and I’m taking my son to the Sox game and all that, I wouldn’t be able to remember his name from a misdiagnosis.”
People had mixed reactions on the internet, with some expressing concern that he’s not properly taking care of himself, while others expressed anger that his actions are being linked to bipolar disorder in the first place.
The event with Kanye west in the Oval Office was heartbreaking. The man needs psychological treatment for his bipolar disorder, not being pranced around on a national stage.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) October 11, 2018
Let’s move away from blaming Kanye’s actions on mental illness or bipolar disorder.
I know bipolar people, and their condition never made them flip their morals and support a racist sexual predator.
— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) October 11, 2018
On top of conflicting views about his messaging, others pointed out that West’s uninterrupted speech — which spanned 10 minutes and covered topics ranging from his own potential presidential run to prison reform — had the appearance of a manic episode, one aspect of bipolar disorder.
Kanye said he is not bipolar but his ranting could be used as a teaching tool to show how a hypomanic person talks. pic.twitter.com/irYi2SArZm
— Manuel Mota-Castillo (@doctormota) October 11, 2018
Was genuinely unaware that he’s bipolar recently admitted to being off his meds, which somehow makes this all worse.https://t.co/zYF6zb70Qm
— Gary Legum (@GaryLegum) October 11, 2018
While it’s impossible to know whether West was actually going through a manic episode, his comments on being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder may actually hold some weight. A 2006 study in Psychiatry referred to a bipolar diagnosis as “one of the most complex topics in contemporary psychiatry,” citing two specific studies showing that it is frequently misdiagnosed (and often mistaken for depression). Another study from 2016 found evidence that the condition is actually overdiagnosed and that clinicians sometimes tell patients who don’t have the condition that they do.
Shainna Ali, a mental health practitioner and advocate, says West’s comments shed light on an important — and often undercovered — topic in her field. “Misdiagnosis is common,” Ali tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Even the most well-intentioned therapist could find themselves misdiagnosing a patient.” Ali cites several factors that make diagnoses difficult, including the overlapping symptoms associated with many major mental health issues and the fact that most must be self-reported.
As a result, Ali says that it can be challenging to know whether you are getting the full story of what a patient is going through. “Therapists are at the whim of whether a client reports or not,” she says. “It depends on what they’re willing to share in the moment, and because stigma is a factor, a lot of people minimize their problems. Misinformation happens, and there are many reasons why.”
Although Ali can’t speak directly to West’s diagnosis — or apparent misdiagnosis — she says that neuroimaging (which West mentioned) may help doctors to make a more precise diagnosis in the future. But even if the rapper doesn’t suffer from bipolar disorder, as he claims, Ali says there are benefits to working on your own mental health.
“I think it’s important to normalize the process of diagnosis. Therapists are trying their best, but it’s just not cut-and-dried,” Ali tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s understandable to be frustrated when you’re seeking treatment, but … there are still benefits even if you have the wrong diagnosis — benefits of exploring the symptoms and working on solutions. Sometimes we get hyperfocused on the label, and we miss the person behind them.”
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