Celebrity Mental Illness
Britney Spears and Heath Ledger in the news
Andy "Electroboy" Behrman
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There's been so much in the media lately about two celebrities—Britney Spears and Heath Ledger—and about their mental health conditions.
As I'm not a psychiatrist or a mental health care professional, I'm not qualified to say whether Britney has bipolar disorder, or if Heath's death was a suicide. I was encouraged to hear that Ms. Spears was seeking treatment by qualified psychiatrists at one of the best mental health care facilities in Los Angeles. But now that she's been released, who knows what will happen to her?
Perhaps the most horrifying piece of Ms. Spears' story (not to minimize her own suffering) is how the media has turned her erratic and often risky behavior into a joke and her psychological problems into a circus event. If she is diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, she—like any one else—deserves our best wishes, because she will struggle with this invisible and insidious disease for the rest of her life. At the least, we can be hopeful that perhaps she will eventually get the help that she so clearly needs. And today, there is so much support available to people with mood disorders and their families. If you visit “About Bipolar Disorder” on my website, you'll find some helpful information.
With more than six million people suffering from bipolar disorder in this country it's finally time to take mental illness seriously. It's not a laughing matter, regardless of how famous you may be or how much the media spins the story of this "crazy" pop culture figure.
More and more people are becoming aware of the fact that mental illness is so rampant because of cases involving celebrities -- but this particular case increases the stigma of the illness as one which is defined by the media with terms like "crazy" and "lunatic." I even was shocked to read that someone couldn't believe that "someone with all of the resources of Ms. Spears couldn't just control herself." If it was only that easy.
Heath Ledger's death, according to the medical examiner, was caused by a combination of six prescription drugs—two sleep medications, two anti-anxiety drugs and two narcotic painkillers. Hopefully, we're waking up to the fact that the abuse of prescription medication is a huge problem in this country. Coincidentally, tomorrow is the first anniversary of Anna Nicole Smith's death.
The real tragedy of all of these stories is that people are still ashamed of mental illness and addiction and would prefer to sweep them under the carpet by saying that all three of these celebrities were unfortunate victims of being in the spotlight. Mental illness and addiction doesn't discriminate, and perhaps their being in the spotlight is a blessing in disguise.
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