I never thought I’d begin a column by praising Kim Kardashian West, but I do so today.

Arguably the world’s most famous-for-being-famous celebrity, Kardashian West performed a valuable public service this week by talking openly about the helplessness family members can feel when trying to cope with a loved one’s mental illness.

The person Kardashian West loves, and who is so publicly grappling with bipolar disorder, is her husband, musical genius Kanye West, who with grandiose and calamitous fanfare has launched what he claims is a campaign for the presidency. When he announced his candidacy on Independence Day, my first worry was that he could siphon away votes that Joe Biden will need to defeat President Trump. My second concern was that helping Trump might be the whole point: West has been a vocal supporter of the president, whom he bear-hugged in the Oval Office. But then West held his first campaign event — and my thinking changed.

At a bizarre rally in South Carolina on Sunday, West sported a flak jacket and “2020” shaved into his hair, and he delivered a soliloquy that I can only describe as profoundly unhinged.

His claim that abolitionist Harriet Tubman, one of U.S. history’s greatest heroes, “never actually freed the slaves, she just had the slaves go work for other white people,” drew boos and catcalls from the mostly African American crowd. But it was just one line in a torrent of nonsense and non sequiturs. West complained that the companies Gap and Adidas have not put him on their boards of directors. He broke down in tears when talking about his late mother. He praised Kardashian West for bringing their daughter North into the world “even when I didn’t want to.” He said he opposed abortion but did not want to ban it, instead proposing to discourage people from terminating pregnancies with cash payments from the government, ranging from $50,000 to “everybody that has a baby gets a million dollars.” 

West proudly claims never in his life to have voted in any election. He has qualified to appear on the November ballot in just one state — Oklahoma — and has missed the filing deadline in many others. His “candidacy,” and that word deserves to be in quotes, clearly poses no political threat to Biden or anyone else. Rather, it looks like a cry for help from a man in crisis.

Not that West seems ready to accept anyone’s assistance. He told David Letterman in a 2019 interview that he does not like to take medication for his condition, complaining it makes him gain weight. In recent days, he claimed that Kardashian West and her family are attempting to have him committed involuntarily, and compared the possibility to South African dissident Nelson Mandela’s long imprisonment. He possesses the fame and the bank account to keep traveling around the country, assembling crowds and giving incoherent and offensive speeches as long as he wants.

“Those that understand mental illness or even compulsive behavior know that the family is powerless unless the member is a minor,” Kardashian West wrote Wednesday in a post on Instagram Stories. “People who are unaware or far removed from this experience can be judgmental and not understand that the individuals themselves have to engage in the process of getting help no matter how hard family and friends try.”

She is correct. Unless an adult is assessed to pose a danger to himself or others, family members are reduced to bystanders. They cannot force West to take medication. They cannot force him to seek psychiatric help or have him involuntarily committed unless they can demonstrate that he poses a danger to himself or others. They can see a disaster coming yet have no way to prevent it.

“We as a society talk about giving grace to the issue of mental health as a whole, however we should also give it to the individuals who are living with it in times when they need it the most,” Kardashian West wrote, asking the media and public for “the compassion and empathy that is needed so that we can get through this.”

I suppose that to some that might sound self-serving: Kardashian West and her family have been monetizing their personal dramas for years. 

But by sharing her anguish, Kardashian West spoke for countless families in the same dire situation — watching a spouse, sibling, parent or adult child go through a process of self-destruction and being powerless to intervene. I hope she is able to persuade her husband to seek help. And I hope someday he realizes how lucky he is to have her by his side.

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