For those of us who follow pop culture news, the #FreeBritney movement has been all over social media. If you’re not familiar, in a nutshell, it’s this: Britney Spears is currently fighting to remove the conservatorship her father has over her, which was originally put in place because she was deemed “unfit” to have autonomous control over her life and career. This stems from her public breakdown in 2007 where she famously shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi van with an umbrella. At the time, it was easy to write her off as “crazy”, but what many of us failed to consider are the circumstances leading up to this mental break and how we as a society continue to contribute to the detriment of celebrities' mental health.
However, what the #FreeBritney movement has done is open up a conversation around mental health, and autonomy. Imagine if you had a breakdown and for more than a decade afterward, someone controlled how much you worked, where you lived, how much money you spent…everything. Most of us can’t imagine having that happen, yet it does happen, and not just to famous people. Ordinary people end up in conservatorship situations, too. Some of them are justified decisions, some not so much. It’s only by bringing this into the open that we can change how these situations are handled.
Just like many of us do on social media, celebrities try to get the perfect angle—or press coverage—to appear like they have everything together. Every now and then we can peek behind the curtain and see the truth—many of them are dealing with severe depression, anxiety, and substance abuse issues. Musicians often hide their pain in plain sight, within the lyrics of their songs. Take for example “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar—a song that talks about alcohol abuse and its effects on mental health, which ironically became one of the most popular party songs in 2012.
In May 2015, 40 celebrities from television and film came together in a video called #iamstigmafree for Philosophy’s Hope & Grace Initiative in an attempt to start a conversation about mental health. Many others have been lending their voice to other public service announcements all in support of raising awareness. While this can appear as pandering to some, studies show that having high-profile people speak publicly about their battles with mental health does in fact inspire members of the general public to shed the stigma and seek healthcare for their own issues.
That’s a big reason why I made my story public and why I have been writing these blogs. I want to educate the people around me—and the people I don’t know—about mental health, invisible injury, and how important it is that we make this a topic at the dinner table, in the car, or even in line at the grocery store. If some of the most famous people in the world can talk about their struggles, the rest of us should be brave enough to do so, too. Don’t you think?
Has a celebrity’s public story about their mental health helped you understand the battle a little bit more? How do you feel about the media covering those stories?