Britney Spears, young celebrities and mental health.

The latest news about Britney Spears, and her loss of parental responsibility for her two children, is not only a story of personal tragedy – but also an indictment of the failure of the United States’ politicians to develop effective child protection for working ‘celebrity’ children.  We are well aware of Spears, and also Michael Jackson, and there are others who come to mind including River Phoenix, Drew Barrimore, and Judy Garland.   And is it just the United States that is at fault?  No, it has happened in the UK as well; some of us will remember Lena Zavaroni and the incurability of her anorexia – resulting in her early death, and I am sure there are other ‘celebrity’ young people that we can think of, including Jack Wilde, from the past and the present, who suffered greatly from the pressures they experienced at a time when they were unable to cope with them.     Why are these people of interest in a Mental Health ‘blog’?  Well, because many of these celebrities, and also other individuals who started out as so called child ‘stars’, have ended up in very obvious need of mental health support and services for their circumstances, and for public understanding.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether they were involved in acting, music, television or whatever – for many of them the end result has been mental instability and relationship breakdowns, often coupled with drug and alcohol experiences.   And where and when did those experiences start?   Reading people’s biographies are a good starting point, and many are available in full or synopsis on the internet.  Some tell of being supplied with ‘medication’ – usually speed – to help them through the demands of the film or theatre role, and of their inability to give up the drugs as they grew older.  When you consider the obvious physical fitness of individuals like Madonna, and the lengths they have gone to as adults in order to maintain that fitness -then it is hardly surprising to hear that much younger ‘stars’ – maybe in their teens – needed to be given ‘medication’ to enable them to keep going on stage or while recording.   And what of the developmental conflicts forced on them by adults wanting to persuade the public of one virtue or another of their child/protegy – Britneys public statements about her chastity and virginity come to mind, as does the ‘clean’ image of the Jackson family.  What WERE the adults around Britney thinking of?  It’s hardly surprising that she seems to have gone seriously ‘off the rails’ since being able to make her own choices.

The ‘media’ of course  – (a generalisation I admit) –  grasp the opportunity for reporting (and fuelling?) a ‘good’ story, and rarely find time to research and examine the root causes of these very public failures.   Why?   I am sure there are many reasons, including business income, but I think they are missing a ‘trick’ here.     These are stories that need to be told; stories of the steady decline of individuals into mental ill health and sometimes an early death.   Research into how many others, who maybe never reached ‘celebrity status’, experienced the same ‘support systems’ and ended up on the scrap heap of human failure.   But of course, it wasn’t failure – these children and teenagers weren’t obtaining and administering these items themselves – they were being given them – as some of them record.   I find it a contrary world to have laws and strict regulation about the hours of work for paper boys and girls and for school age shop workers, based on the assessed psychological and physical effects of such work and the young persons’ need for free activity, regular education, etc., and yet to allow – admittedly with regulation – young ‘stars’ to commit to hours of rehearsal each week, and hours of performance even if eased by shift rotas.   And then there may be be world travel; performing before world Personalities, and then the let down when precocity is replaced by normal physical development, and earning power drops.  How can this be right?  I am not impressed by smiling faced twelve year olds telling the news cameras of their delight in their stage roles and how much they are enjoyed.  I am even less impressed by the parents who think that this is a suitable childhood for their children.  Am I a cynic to think it is probably about money and short term futures – because many of these young people are never heard of again in any major roles?   And then, sometimes – all too often it seems to me – we do hear of them; and like Britney and Michael Jackson, and Jack Wilde and River Phoenix, and Lena and Drew and Judy Garland; it is a story of tragedy, emotional pain, dissolusion, relationship difficulties, huge professional treatment fees, and serious mental ill health.  And sometimes self harm and death.  All these individuals were owed the duty of safe parenting, and if that was not there for them, then they were owed the duty of state intervention.  It is too late for Britney; although the state has intervened to protect her children, it did not protect her when she needed it.   And the same for the others.

If you have a similar experience in your own life – of unreasonable expectation and possibly exploitation, then write and tell me.  It may not be to do with the stage, or performance arts, but to do with academic and personal expectations and what happened when they were not achieved.  Did you follow the ‘wrong career’, shack up with the ‘wrong partner’,  or were you just made to feel a failure?  Are you willing to share these experiences with the readers of SpeakEasy?   



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