July 29, 2020

Spotlight on Kanye West Reveals The Mental Health Challenges of Creatives

by, Dr. Reef Karim

As Kanye West continues to struggle publicly with reports of bipolar disorder, his struggles reveal three important truths: a lack of understanding mental health, the downside of creative genius and the way our society values visibility over credibility.

Like so many of you, I’ve seen the reporting on Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, and the way people talk about Kanye in the news, talk shows and social media. Based on my observations of the toxic and often times rigid and limited interpretation of his behavior, it’s clear to me there are three important truths our society needs to examine and address immediately:

The Three Truths
1) Most people still don’t understand mental health 
2) Creativity is a powerful force but creative genius has a potential downside
3) Our biggest societal weakness is emphasizing visibility over credibility

As a medical physician, double board certified psychiatrist and expert on the mind, I feel compelled to share my perspective and thoughts because to understand creative genius, erratic behavior (and someone like Kanye), we first have to understand mental health and the mind.

Disclaimer: I don’t know Kanye nor do I have anything to do with his care, diagnosis or treatment but I do know mental health and the inner workings of the minds of creative artists; having worked with many high profile artists, celebrities and performers over the last few decades.

And as I see people laughing and listen to unqualified armchair media personalities making negative mean spirited comments at his expense, I want to provide expertise and share some insight as to what happens inside the mind of a creative artist (who’s expressing their art) and what happens inside the mind of someone who suffers from bipolar disorder.

The emotional effects of bipolar disorder don’t just impact the individual; they impact the family, friends and loved ones around them.

So what can we learn from Kanye and the subsequent reporting of his actions?

Lesson #1: People Still Don’t Get Mental Health

When in the throes of an active mental health problem, in this case specifically bipolar disorder, an individual might say or do things that don’t seem quite right. It could be paranoia. It could be grandiosity. It could be highs and lows, mood instability, anxiety. That’s the emotional pain talking. 
It drives things they say and things they do.

People suffering from bipolar disorder, which is a neurochemical condition in the mind, may suffer from racing thoughts, pressured speech, nights without sleeping, mood swings, risky behaviors, deep insecurity, impulsive actions and paranoia. And they may also have intense surges of creativity.

The real problem, though, is living their lives outside of those bursts of creativity such as navigating interpersonal relationships, communicating effectively, controlling their impulses and managing their emotions. Problems also manifest around maintaining a job, social etiquette and being able to trust people around you (we are witnessing much of this now per reports).

These behaviors, that seem so basic to people who aren’t suffering, are often overlooked or neglected or too painful in people who are suffering with mental health impairment; particularly if an individual is not on their medications or unaware of their condition or not actively engaged in a strong treatment program.

Listen to the way people describe Kanye’s behavior at face value and how they completely overlook the fact there might be something else going on.

And during times of crisis, stress and uncertainty (the world right now), mental health conditions tend to worsen.

Think about it. We are all feeling the effects of a crisis mindset right now and people who are vulnerable emotionally are in a tough place.

And now my rant.

I’m so sick of listening to people talk about mental health who have no idea what they’re talking about. Just cause you COULD share your opinion doesn’t mean you SHOULD share your opinion.

You would think that people would have a little more insight and understanding, in this modern age, when seeing individuals in pain (celebrities or not) who are struggling and having difficulties with their emotional health.

Lesson #2: The Power of Creativity and Downside of Creative Genius

Tapping into your creative power can completely change your life; it can provide you vision, insight, new ideas, new ways to problem solve and so much more.

A creative mind connects concepts and neurons in ways others simply don’t. 
A creative artist can envision things that others can’t; can solve problems, build companies, write music, connect the dots, lead a team, activate their originality and integrate the cognitive and creative parts of the mind in ways others aren’t able to or don’t know how to do.

We should all strive to be more creative. Some of it is innate. But you can LEARN to be more creative.

Creative genius is high creative output, innate talent and innovative thinking; so much so that it may come with some downsides; starting with erratic or complicated mental health difficulties. Just look at the lives of the few people tagged with the title “creative genius” and you’ll most likely see an erratic personal life.

So what about bipolar disorder and creative genius?

Bipolar disorder is often linked with creativity. And there is some truth to that. But it is also very possible to be uber creative without suffering from mental health difficulties. You may see the world differently but still maintain an ability to be grounded in reality.

Creativity is an incredibly underutilized tool that often goes undiscovered in the lives of many individuals. But creative genius is obvious; its effects are undeniable. The only problem is the potential trade off; the benefits and contribution and art that comes from the mind of a creative genius is often complicated by that individual’s inability to function in a normative setting in the world.

Lesson #3: We live in a society that currently favors visibility over credibility.

Our present media distribution networks allow people to have platforms (social media, blogging, vlogging, podcasts, talk shows, news, etc.) to say/announce/blast whatever opinions they want regardless of any training, substantial experience on the topic, extensive knowledge, genuine insight, credibility, education or the innate wisdom to responsibly share or back up that opinion.

The end result? A society swimming in information overload and a lack of credibility; lots of noise and opinions, but very little credible expertise, understanding, insight and compassion.

There’s so much noise that we can’t hear the wisdom.

Our experts can help us navigate through crisis, help us achieve clarity, help us better our lives. And without them, we will see more conformity, more fatigue, more anxiety, less originality and more mental health issues.

And that’s a huge problem. Cause that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

[It seems as though people care way too much about visibility and influence than credibility and expertise]

We tend to take people in the public eye at face value and don’t look at them as full spectrum, complicated human beings. What a celebrity or politician or artist does and says — gets analyzed and dissected and overly scrutinized with little investigation into “what’s really going on”.

The misconceptions, stigma and lack of insight associated with mental health difficulties are significant, under-recognized and under-appreciated.

And sometimes those same notable human beings are under the influence of an inner chemical disturbance; and during those vulnerable public moments, we should show more compassion and less sensationalism.

Watch And Read More From Me

Over the years, I’ve had one simple goal, to expand and connect both sides of my mind… the cognitive and creative. To lead a life of high energy, high creativity and high ambition. And to teach others the tools and techniques to do the same.

I’ve spent time as a scientist: serving as a medical physician, double board certified psychiatrist, assistant clinical professor, CEO and entrepreneur of a successful mental health center, author of peer reviewed medical journal articles and an overall expert on the mind.

I’ve also spent time as a creative artist: hosting cable television shows, consulting/writing for a network show, acting in both hollywood and bollywood feature films, performing improv sketch comedy, stand up comedy and dancing a pretty mean salsa and swing in a dance company.

Our ability to connect and integrate our mind is the key to a successful and meaningful life. I help people get out of their own way, release negativity, become more aware of their environment and create more space in their mind for innovation, originality and novelty thinking; to learn to engineer sustained aha moments through an integrative platform of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, spirituality and creativity.


If I’ve sparked your interest and/or touched a note, please visit one of the links below:

This article was written with love, compassion and the belief that a society devoid of expertise and credibility and lacking in authentic creative output, will stagnate and suffer from growing mental health concerns.

Dr. Reef Karim
(60% Scientist, 40% Creative, 100% Human)

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