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The Ugly Truth: Amanda Bynes and Mental Illness

Like a wild animal running loose on the streets of New York, Amanda Bynes’s recent behavior has the media hooked as celebrity gossip columnists balk at every new wig or Twitter tirade.

It’s easy to poke fun at Amanda Bynes.  After all, she’s a beautiful former child star whose recent antics are at least as interesting as the plot line of any movie in which she’s played a leading role.  On a slow news day, reporters can bet on the fact that’s she gone off on another Twitter rant, calling out celebrities such as Rihanna and Perez Hilton as ugly and expressing her desire to have pop sensation Drake “murder her vagina,” only to bounce back and call him ugly just a few weeks later.

But, perhaps there something more serious going on here.  Maybe the key issue isn’t Bynes’s mental illness; it’s with America’s irrational fascination with witnessing her breakdown.

The nation continues to watch as Amanda steadily partakes in more risky behaviors and eccentric activities.  The once-loved actress is suffering the same fate as many child stars before her, young actors whose environments force them into the fast-paced entrainment industry before they even understood the meaning of the term “celebrity.” 

Commentators are quick to blame parents who thrust their children into the limelight.  For instance, Dr. Keith Ablow from FOX News believes, “The decision to force kids to attend auditions, act in commercials, movies and televisions shows is always rooted in the parents’ own narcissistic needs and their focus on themselves, to the exclusion of their sons and daughters.” 

For some, it seems only fitting that if the child is acting out, it must be because the parents made poor choices in the child’s upbringing. Factor in that early access to money provides financing for expensive drug habits and other risky behaviors further down the road, and it’s as though child stars are destined for breakdowns later in life.

But, the reality is that mental illness affects all types of people. If society is to believe, as psychologists tell us, that certain disorders are due to chemical imbalances in the brain, then serious mental illness cannot be simply the result of poor upbringing.  This isn’t to say that in some cases, a tumultuous childhood cannot contribute to mental illness.  But to immediately assign blame to the parents is to neglect the underlying illness without assess the facts.  There are some money-hungry parents who thrust their children into the limelight to earn a quick buck… but there are also countless child stars whose lives haven’t driven them to tragic meltdowns.

What I’m posing is that maybe Amanda Bynes isn’t the crazy one.  Maybe it’s our own obsession with celebrity, and the subsequent schadenfraude of watching a once-successful child star endure the challenges of mental illness, that makes us the sick ones.

As a child, I watched All That, and laughed at Amanda’s hilarious impersonations and big characters.  But I hadn’t really thought too much about her until 2012, when police arrested her for driving under the influence.  Suddenly, she was in the news for more and more, and many times for things that wouldn’t be such a big deal coming from someone not famous.

This media coverage perpetuates a cycle; I’ve seen her Twitter account grow from 600,000 followers to 1.8 million, thereby creating a fan base that not only condones her activities, but also perpetuates them.  It’s like watching a fire engulf a home.  The more troubling it is, the more people want to see it firsthand.

Are we watching because we enjoy the dramatic twists and turns of the media rollercoaster ride?  Or are we watching because we feel some air of superiority when watching a famous person fall from grace? Either way, neither seem like legitimate reasons to watch while Bynes struggles with her issues in the public eye.

Like Britney Spears before her, Amanda Bynes has a long healing process ahead of her.  Britney’s family was able to intervene and get her the medical help she needs; unfortunately, Bynes’s parents are facing some setbacks in mimicking Spears’s course of care.

The issue here is not necessarily Amanda Bynes’s outrageous behavior – it’s clear she needs help, and that her breakdown is very public and very sad.  The bigger issue is America’s insensitivity to the harrowing ordeal of what it means to have a mental illness. 

I can’t fathom what it could be like to experience a mental breakdown while in the public eye.  The constant drama of the media circus, the distorted thinking that comes after seeing yourself on the front page of every website, and the stifling pressures of listening to reports that may or may not be completely true are enough to drive a sane person crazy.

I pose that the media stop the gross glamorization of Amanda Bynes’s behavior, and give her time to heal. Just as reputable media outlets respect one’s privacy when that person is undergoing turbulent illnesses or devastating injuries, these outlets should also honor and respect the difficulties of one’s struggle with mental illness.

Of course, then there’s the other problem inherent in media reporting: if competing outlets are reporting on Byne’s illness, then outlets that cease to cover her sickness lose their competitive edge.  Perhaps lifestyle magazines can address this issue by offering media angles that don’t diminish Bynes.  Instead, these media outlets could seek to offer resources for other women struggling with mental illness.

As for Bynes?  Most people need help to deal with their mental illnesses, and unfortunately Bynes seems to be surrounded by enablers who do not comprehend the realities of her problems.  Perhaps they believe she is happy, or that she is a lost cause.  It is difficult to understand the intentions of an enabler.

However, in light of her recent alleged illegal behaviors, impulsive body altering procedures and threatening attitude, it’s clear there’s much more going on here.  It is my hope that the media will stop fueling the fire that is Amanda Bynes, and will instead focus on the bigger picture of what it is that makes humans watch in awe from the sidelines as a celebrity crashes.

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