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Millions of People Live With Mental Health Issues. Kim Kardashian’s Letter Is for Them

Mental health disorders in families are far more pervasive than you probably think and the outcomes aren't great.

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Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West have been publicly struggling with the consequences of Kanye’s apparent mental health crisis. As Kanye seemingly spirals through an unchecked manic episode, his wife and family have been forced to plead for understanding and kindness. It’s all very hard to watch. But if there is any good in the human drama unfolding over social media, it’s that the private suffering of millions of American families has been revealed in the unkind glare of tabloid headlines. It’s up to us to take the revelation to heart.

Over the last week, the world has indulged in ghoulish fascination with Kanye West’s very public mental health crisis and the less public pain of his wife Kim Kardashian West. In a series of now-deleted tweets, Kanye claimed this week that his family had been pushing him towards an involuntary psychiatric hold and that he’d been trying to divorce Kim for two years. Kim responded to the tweets with a public letter on her Instagram account explaining how the family has struggled to help Kanye manage his long-recognized bi-polar disorder.

“People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individual themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try,” Kim wrote.

Aside from their trauma being wrapped in a lavish cocoon of wealth, the Wests aren’t particularly unique when it comes to the mental health woes of American families. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults (47.6 million people) experienced mental illness in 2018, the last year data was available. That’s nearly 20-percent of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Moreover, nearly 5 percent of adults in the United States experienced serious mental illness causing a significant barrier to their ability to function in the world.

Those numbers represent an eye-opening amount of individual pain. But mental illness doesn’t just affect individuals. NAMI reports that at least 8.4 Million adults care for a family member with mental illness and that those individuals spend up to 32 hours a week in unpaid care. Only one of those adults happens to be Kim Kardashian. Does that make her plight any less compelling? No. But there are so many others helping loved ones with mental health issues, facing stigma, lack of support, and often silently enduring.

As Kanye’s deleted divorce tweet illustrates, the outcomes for families trying to manage mental illness aren’t great. A 2015 international study sampling 20,233 couples found that individuals experiencing mental distress doubled their risk of divorce. A 2011 study from the University of California Davis found a similar increase in divorce rates when one spouse is affected by mental illness. When the divorces occur in families with children, young lives are destabilized, relationships are weakened and the complications can resonate across generations.

To be clear, the Wests are probably best prepared to weather the tempest of mental illness in their family. They have all of the help money can buy and a community that will likely step in to ease the burden on the couples four children. That doesn’t make the situation any less painful.

But we have to remember that the Wests pain, while acute and amplified by gossip media, is also pervasive across our country. Our friends and neighbors might be dealing with these same struggles and they may not have the resources to deal with them. So, we need to reach out. We need to pay attention, and we need to push legislators to pass legislation that strengthens mental healthcare infrastructure in the country. Help should be on hand for all people, regardless of fame of or income, for the health of our communities.

But more than all that, we need to be empathetic. These issues aren’t easy. And no matter who you are, the pain of living with or caring for someone with a mental illness is real. This isn’t reality TV. It’s just reality.