Kanye West

  1. Introduction

For one of my final year modules at university, I had to write a clinical report on a celebrity who had been suffering from a formally undiagnosed mental illness. We had to diagnose the disorder, describe the processes that cause it and create treatment plans tailored to the celebrity. As Kanye’s mental health has been in the media a lot recently, I thought I would choose him and share a few sections of my report on my blog for people to learn about his situation.

Before I start, there are few disclaimers I would like to point out:

  • Kanye’s personal information has been taken from public websites, however information regarding clinical mental health have been taken from academic peer-reviewed journals – all of which are referenced.
  • Despite my best attempt at being professional and fair, I am NOT a qualified clinical psychologist. This has been a taken and adapted from an academic piece of work to be informative about mental health and Kanye’s situation.

  1. Kanye’s history

To understand the development of a disorder, we first need to understand Kanye’s history. This will enable physicians to track the development of poor mental health, as well as uncovering factors that may have caused it.

From an early age, Kanye has always had immense belief in his own abilities. He described education as “not going fast enough for him to create what he knew he could” before dropping out of university twice [1]. This self-belief has progressed throughout his life and has manifested into his music with songs such as “I Love Kanye”, and has even escalated to comparing himself to god in the song “I Am A God” [2]. Hence, these behaviours are perhaps the manifestation of self-inflated pathology.

Kanye’s mother, Donda, died in 2007 and many reports suggest that he feels extreme guilt because of this. Consequently, close family report that Kanye has never gotten over the death of his mother and reacts badly to trauma and stress [3]. In October 2016, Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint leading to Kanye experiencing paranoia and nightmares [4] [5], however on the 21st of November 2016, he was hospitalised with temporary psychosis and manic behaviour [6]. At the time of these behaviours, it was nearly 9 years to the day since the death of Kanye’s mother as well as just over a month after his wife’s attack. Self-inflated and manic behaviours that had been consistent throughout Kanye’s life thus far had increased tenfold to unhealthy levels throughout this period, as did his vulnerability to trauma and stress [4].

  1. Potential disorders

Now that we have a better understanding of Kanye’s personal life, it is time to understand the potential disorders that he may be suffering from – one of these being Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In NPD, grandiose “overt” narcissism, such as boosted self-esteem and maladaptive arrogance, are the most common symptoms [7] with the disorder typically developing in early adulthood [8]. Kanye displayed these features with his high levels of arrogance and believing he was a modern god.

Conversely, vulnerability “covert” narcissism [9] refers to anxiety and vulnerability to trauma [10]. These are caused by poor coping strategies in response to trauma that is seen as a threat towards positive self-esteem, and are often ignored in patients with NPD [9]. Importantly, they can be more dangerous due to being the most distressing for the patient. It was Kanye’s vulnerability to trauma that eventually led to his mental breakdown after the attack of his wife, as well as the adverse reaction to his mother’s death.

  1. Cognitive processes and theory

Okay. From the symptoms, it appears that Kanye might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). But to understand why these symptoms have come about, we need to understand the theory and cognitive processes behind them.

Symptomatic NPD (amongst many other disorders) is caused by underlying faulty emotional cognitive processes [11] [12]. Ordinarily, these processes allow humans to react to emotional situations with each other in a healthy way. However, if the cognition becomes faulty, symptoms can occur. Extremely positive emotional cognition can result in extremely positive self-esteem. Alternatively, extreme reductions in emotional cognition may result in vulnerability and deep anxiety to emotional experiences [13]. Hence it is the fault in emotional cognition that generates the symptoms seen in Kanye and other patients.

There are many different theories on what causes these cognitive disruptions, such as neglect through childhood reducing the development of skills that allow us to process emotional stimuli [14] [15] [16], or the increase in self-centered rhetoric within mainstream media putting more emphasis on promoting our strengths [17] [18]. However, the main point to take from this is that NPD is a complex disorder, with many factors contributing to the disruption of mental processes.

  1. Treatment

After understanding Kanye and his potential disorders, it is now time to think about the best way to treat them – the hardest part of any diagnosis. One way most people tackle this is by directly treating the symptoms. For example, Kanye gets overly anxious in emotional traumatic situations, thus the focus should be on making him less anxious. However, there is a problem with this:

Patients are likely to have more than one symptom, making it impractical and near impossible to develop and implement enough treatments for each one.

Hence this is where emotional cognitive processes come in. As all the symptoms are based on the faultiness of these processes [19], a treatment that can fix this can fix the root cause of the disorder [20].

One such treatment is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) [21]. This therapy aims to improve and develop the faulty processes that cause NPD symptoms. For example, emotion regulation training develops strategies to improve the management of emotional experiences [23] whereas interpersonal training focuses on understanding other people’s mental states and how self-centeredness and extreme positive emotions affects them [24] [25] [26].  Hence by a therapy improving the processes rather than the individual symptoms, Kanye and many other suffers of NPD can improve. This training will be particularly beneficial for Kanye as better management of emotional experiences will allow him to come to terms with his mother’s death [22] [27].

  1. Conclusion

The main reason I shared this snippet of my report was due to Kanye’s – and many other people suffering from mental illnesses – bad reputation in the media. People with these types of disorders are not taken seriously when they need support. The purpose of this post was to inform those around me about a disorder like this; that on the surface appears to be simple arrogance, but is in fact a debilitating illness filled with anxiety and vulnerability. I also hope that by going more in depth behind the processes that cause disorders like these, people can better understand the treatments that are available to them. These things need to discussed and learnt about in order to reduce the stigmatization that clouds this subject.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my post. I hope you learned something,



[1] Hess, M. (Ed.). (2007). Icons of hip hop: an encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture (Vol. 2). Greenwood Publishing Group.

[2] Lowe. Z. [BBC Radio1]. (2013, October 1). Kanye West. Zane Lowe. Full Interview [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR_yTQ0SYVA

[3] Parry, R. (2016, November 23). ‘Kanye was so close to his mom, holiday time is really difficult.’ Family and Donda West’s plastic surgeon say the hospitalized rapper’s breakdown was triggered by the anniversary of her death. Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3966208/Kanye-close-mom-holiday-time-really-difficult-Family-Donda-West-s-plastic-surgeon-say-rapper-s-breakdown-triggered-anniversary-death.html

[4] Grow, K. (2016, December 2). Kanye West’s Hospital Stay: Inside Rapper’s Troubled Recent Weeks. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/kanye-wests-hospital-stay-rappers-troubled-recent-weeks-w453465

[5] Hilton, P. (2016, November 21). Kanye West Officially Cancels The Rest Of His Saint Pablo Tour After Public Outbursts! Perez Hilton. Retrieved from http://perezhilton.com/2016-11-21-kanye-west-cancels-life-of-pablo-saint-pablo-tour-cancelled#.WMhQiIdXXRY

[6] Winton, R. (2016, November 23). Authorities spent 2 hours persuading Kanye West to be hospitalized, sources say. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-kanye-west-police-20161123-story.html

[7] Pincus, A. L. (2011). Some comments on nomology, diagnostic process, and narcissistic personality disorder in the DSM-5 proposal for personality and personality disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 2(1), 41.

[8] Bates, C., & Neff, M. R. (2017). Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

[9] Pincus, A. L., & Lukowitsky, M. R. (2010). Pathological narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 6, 421-446.

[10] Pincus, A. L., & Roche, M. J. (2011). Narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability. In W. K. Campbell, & J. D. Miller (Eds.), The handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments; the handbook of narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder: Theoretical approaches, empirical findings, and treatments (pp. 31-40, Chapter xv, 511 Pages) John Wiley & Sons Inc, Hoboken, NJ.

[11] Pincus, A. L., Cain, N. M., & Wright, A. G. (2014). Narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability in psychotherapy. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 5(4), 439-443.

[12] Kring, A. M. (2008). Emotion disturbances as transdiagnostic processes in psychopathology. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), 3rd ed.; handbook of emotions (3rd ed.) (3rd ed. ed., pp. 691-705, Chapter xvi, 848 Pages) Guilford Press, New York, NY.

[13] Berking, M., & Wupperman, P. (2012). Emotion regulation and mental health: recent findings, current challenges, and future directions. Current opinion in psychiatry, 25(2), 128-134.  

[14] Mosquera, D., & Knipe, J. (2015). Understanding and treating narcissism with EMDR therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 9(1), 46-63.

[15] Grover, K. E., Carpenter, L. L., Price, L. H., Gagne, G. G., Mello, A. F., Mello, M. F., & Tyrka, A. R. (2007). The relationship between childhood abuse and adult personality disorder symptoms. Journal of personality disorders, 21(4), 442-447.

[16] Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Chen, H., Kasen, S., & Brook, J. S. (2006). Parenting behaviors associated with risk for offspring personality disorder during adulthood. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(5), 579-587.

[17] Cai, H., Kwan, V. S., & Sedikides, C. (2012). A sociocultural approach to narcissism: The case of modern China. European Journal of Personality, 26(5), 529-535.

[18] Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012). Increases in individualistic words and phrases in American books, 1960–2008. PloS one, 7(7), e40181.

[19] Aldao, A., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2012). When are adaptive strategies most predictive of psychopathology?. Journal of abnormal psychology, 121(1), 276.

[20] Patrick, C. J., & Hajcak, G. (2016). Reshaping clinical science: introduction to the special issue on psychophysiology and the NIMH research domain criteria (RDoC) initiative. Psychophysiology, 53(3), 281-285.

[21] Linehan, M. M., Comtois, K. A., Murray, A. M., Brown, M. Z., Gallop, R. J., Heard, H. L., … & Lindenboim, N. (2006). Two-year randomized controlled trial and follow-up of dialectical behavior therapy vs therapy by experts for suicidal behaviors and borderline personality disorder. Archives of general psychiatry63(7), 757-766.

[22] Linehan, M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. Guilford press.

[23] Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT® Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. Guilford Publications.

[24] Ghiassi, V., Dimaggio, G., & Brüne, M. (2010). Dysfunctions in understanding other minds in borderline personality disorder: a study using cartoon picture stories. Psychotherapy Research20(6), 657-667.

[25] Ellison, W. D., Levy, K. N., Cain, N. M., Ansell, E. B., & Pincus, A. L. (2013). The impact of pathological narcissism on psychotherapy utilization, initial symptom severity, and early-treatment symptom change: A naturalistic investigation. Journal of         Personality Assessment, 95(3), 291-300.

[26] South, S. C., Oltmanns, T. F., & Turkheimer, E. (2003). Personality and the derogation of others: Descriptions based on self-and peer report. Journal of Research in Personality, 37(1), 16-33.

[27] Edel, M. A., Raaff, V., Dimaggio, G., Buchheim, A., & Brüne, M. (2017). Exploring the effectiveness of combined mentalization‐based group therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy for inpatients with borderline personality disorder–A pilot study. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(1), 1-15.


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