“WAKE UP MR. WEST!” The opening line from Kanye West’s 2005 album, “Late Registration,” pops up in my head every time I encounter something surrounding Kanye West in the media. From his bold declaration on national television, that “George Bush doesn’t like black people,” to having audience members wait 4 hours, only to perform 3 songs and rant about Jay Z and Beyoncé, to his surprising announcement that if he had voted, he would have voted for current President Elect Donald Trump, I am always left wishing that he would become aware of his actions and make better decisions. I think we’ve all at some point found his “antics” entertaining, but I can’t help but wonder what is really going on with Kanye.  Already some media sources blame Kim Kardashian for the deterioration of Kanye West’s sanity, as they believe that the Kardashian women have a history of destroying their men. Vilifying these women as scapegoats avoids addressing a theme that is very present in Kanye West’s life: his mental health.


There was a noted shift in Kanye’s public personae following the sudden and unexpected death of his mother. Kanye’s music became darker, as his behavior became increasingly unpredictable and abnormal. While this is not to attribute all of his present day issues to his mother’s passing, it goes without saying that major life events can trigger significant changes in our lives. We have been so entertained by Kanye West’s bizarre actions we did not realize that we were witnessing the unraveling of a Black man’s mental health. The consistent claims of feeling misunderstood, the angered outbursts during interviews, the inflated self-esteem and grandiosity, these are suggestive of several possible mental health conditions. Kanye West’s highlighted actions and reactions may be attributable to manic episodes; they may also suggest untreated bereavement and depression. Whether mania, depression, an adjustment reaction disorder or something altogether different, there is undeniably something  happening to Kanye that deserves attention.


Artists like Kanye West and Kid Cudi are shedding light on an issue concerning Black men that we can no longer ignore. Mental health issues are increasingly present within communities of color, specifically amongst Black and Hispanic men. A 2013 review conducted by the National Institute of Health found that, while rates of major depressive disorder (MDD) were lower amongst African American men, in comparison to White men, the lifetime prevalence of disability and chronicity that stem from MDD was highest amongst African American men (56.5%) as compared to White Men (38.6%)[1]. That is to say that, although white men may be diagnosed more often with major depressive disorder, African American men suffer more chronically from it over their lifetime. This may be attributed to the stigma within communities of color surrounding participation in mental health treatment, or the lack of treatment or care afforded to African American men in comparison to their white counterparts[2]. Indeed,  statistics confirm that, “African-American males are the least likely to obtain help for symptoms of depression, with over 90% not seeking any care.[3]


Over 90% of Black men fail to seek care for a very serious mental health condition, a fact that is disturbingly overlooked. We as a society do not care about the mental health of our Black men. We don’t consider the barriers and social obstacles that may prevent men from seeking the care they need. Instead, we gawk and shake our heads when Kanye West rants on stage and then erratically cancels his tour. We perpetuate a culture in which we laugh at “the mad ramblings” of an emotionally distraught Black man and shame those who would seek help. We embrace toxic notions of masculinity and force men to ascribe to gender roles that damage their mental health. In a meta-analyses of the relationship between conformity to problematic masculine norms and male mental health, research demonstrates that“conformity to the specific masculine norms of self-reliance, power over women, and playboy [has been] unfavorably, robustly, and consistently related to mental health-related outcomes.[4]” Kanye West’s struggle is one common to the men we know and care about; his is the inner battle that many men endure, publicized for the world to witness.


At this point, Kanye appears to have reached his limit and has sought help. In the face of  social ridicule and judgment, this is a commendable action. It is not far-fetched to believe that Kanye is dealing with exhaustion and is overworked. I hope that Kanye West receives treatment that will help him address his present issues. My greater hope is that we cease to trivialize mental health issues for Black men and allow them to feel safe in identifying and seeking help.


[1] Ward, E. and Mengesha, M. (2013), Depression in African American Men: A Review of What We Know and Where We Need to Go From Here. Am J Orthopsychiatry, 83: 386–397. doi:10.1111/ajop.12015

[2] Williams, M. T. (2011). Why African Americans avoid psychotherapy. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culturally-speaking/201111/why-african-americans-avoid-psychoth…

[3] http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/statistics#5

[4] Wong, Y. J., Ho, M.-H. R., Wang, S.-Y., & Miller, I. S. K. (2016, November 21). Meta-Analyses of the Relationship Between Conformity to Masculine Norms and Mental Health-Related Outcomes. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ cou0000176

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Jean Semelfort
Jean Semelfort, Jr. is a licensed professional counselor in New Jersey. He has been an advocate, educator and clinician for 8 years, merging feminist principles with his clinical skills to address issues surrounding domestic violence, sexual assault, and trauma. Jean presently serves as the Prevention Education Coordinator of the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, at Rutgers University. Jean is dedicated to continuing his work towards challenging problematic structures of masculinity and helping men and women develop healthier identities. In addition to his work at Rutgers, Jean is the founder of the Cactus Center, a private practice where he provides individual, family and couples psychotherapy, specifically sensitive to the needs of people of color.

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