Does Kanye West Need a Therapist?

Instead of praising his erratic behavior, real friends should urge him to seek professional help.

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Dr. Rhonda Mattox, a clinical scholar with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, specializes in reducing the stigma of mental illness in the African-American community. While Mattox says she can't diagnose West without speaking with him and learning his history, she does believe that his public behavior at least suggests problems with anger. "He does seem angry," she says. "And because anger is a secondary emotion, he may be using it to hide other emotions."

Mattox says that many men are ashamed of their feelings, which causes them to lash out and hide them with rage. "People don't like to say, 'You embarrassed me' or 'I am disappointed in someone,' " she says, "because people believe those to be signs of weakness. Anger, on the other hand, is an acceptable emotion that doesn't get labeled as weak."

 

 

The statistics about mental health in the black community are grimmer than Harper let on in last week's article. In addition to not getting enough treatment, African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to have serious psychological distress. And in 2008, suicide was the third leading cause of death (pdf) among African-American young people. The problems are particularly acute when it comes to black men, who are seven times more likely than black women to commit suicide.

Mattox's point can't be overstated: It's impossible to diagnose West with mental health issues unless he has a full examination with a skilled therapist. Nonetheless, it seems irresponsible for black leaders like Simmons to pen saccharine letters to hail West's behavior, which is frequently discourteous at best and perilous at worst.

It is indeed cool to make good music that fans enjoy. It's not cool, however, to publicly berate people when you feel angry. It's not cool to humiliate producers and TV hosts. It's not cool to go on hateful rants when you don't get your way. It's not cool to constantly accuse people of trying to destroy you. Those are actions that would find most people fired or divorced or without any friends at all, but most people don't have millions of dollars to cushion themselves from reality.

"I'm so happy to see Russell Simmons reach out in this way to Kanye," wrote one commenter beneath Simmons' letter last week. "Too often we don't step up and support our people when they need us the most."

I agree, but it's important to remember that sometimes the best support isn't nice letters, but tough talk. Go to a therapist, Kanye. 

Cord Jefferson is The Root's Washington reporter. Follow him on Twitter. 

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