When Mental Health Makes The News

A few days ago Kanye West got into a Twitter exchange with Ariana Grande, also mentioning some things about his mental health in the process. The exchange expanded to feature other famous people, including some intense social media posts, which then made its way into more mainstream news. By the time it got there, people were hitting the disturbing highlights instead of looking at the exchange as a whole.

This is why publicly discussing mental health is difficult.
Mr. West mentioned he hadn’t been taking medication in 6 months for an undisclosed mental diagnosis. Ms. Grande was apologizing and then needing to defend her apology. Pete Davidson (Ms. Grande’s former fiance) posted a statement which elicited a wellness check and visits from friends. Coverage focused on these things as well as the harshest tweets surrounding all of this, and the Rolling Stone article I linked even decided to hype the sensation by using Mr. West’s words throughout its article.

The net effect of all of this lets people pretend they’re looking into a possible dramatic situation without having to give a shit about what’s going on underneath it all. In a cruel bit of irony, Mr. Davidson’s involvement only happened because he showed support for Mr. West’s disclosures about his own mental health. People took that and ran with it in a ton of different directions. Ms. Grande was simultaneously offending everyone by trying to show concern.

In other words, all of this happened to feed the social media attention dragon without any sort of concern for the actual struggles of people involved. Yes, I understand some people feel strongly about Kanye West or Ariana Grande or Pete Davidson. They’re celebrities, which some people think makes them property of the public (they’re not – slavery is illegal in this country). But what this does is create a standard for dealing poorly with mental health conversations. Apologies aren’t owed everywhere in these situations.

I feel like the coverage detracted from how these people handled themselves.
Kanye West was pretty open about what he felt and why he was feeling it. Some of it I can identify with. I know exactly how it feels to be off medications and feel like some good part of yourself has returned. It’s not the end of the world or a supreme cause for panic. Rather, it’s a statement of what is.

Ariana Grande did a pretty good job of defending herself while letting people she cares about know that she does care. What got me was the notion that people were trying to force extra helpings of blame onto her, as if people with mental health diagnoses can’t make their own decisions. This isn’t healthy for people who have loved ones with mental health issues. It implies there are things you can do to control your loved ones’ behavior.

The actual twitter exchange was two famous people hashing out the details of their friendship. Another celebrity showed support for the guts it takes to discuss mental health on a platform designed to blow things out of proportion. These are positive things that peers can do for each other.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

But panic ups search metrics and clicks, so we’re left with reinforcing negativity.
Like my concerns with Internet extremism, mental health becomes an Internet guilty pleasure. Sites don’t want to feature it because it interferes with advertising. Talking about mental health can get pretty intense, which ups interaction with applications. So it’s like this thing that can get a new trend rolling, but nobody wants to stick around for the consequences. They just want to do or say some trite thing that makes them feel they’re doing something about it.

Personally, I try not to get too entangled in the cult of celebrity. It’s not fair to the people in the middle of it, and it’s not fair to the people who get hurt by it. Mr. West, Ms. Grande, and Mr. Davidson live lives along the razor’s edge of fame. Sometimes it’s hard to see past that danger to the people behind it. Looking beyond that has provided me some new insight into my own struggles, and that is something I am happily surprised and grateful for.

The thing I’m slowly learning is that mental health isn’t a crusade or a magic bullet. Some people are good for themselves, and other people need help. The people that need help aren’t terrible people. My brain chemistry makes me different, not subhuman. Although mental health problems can get dramatic, they don’t require everyone to react or affirm or jump on a bandwagon.

Sometimes, you just need to be saying something. Sometimes, you need to be heard. And sometimes, you just need to be.

Image courtesy of Stockvault.

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