How Britney’s Breakdown Changed The Media’s Views On Mental Illness

Flashback to February 16, 2007. The date is often forgotten but the memory has stuck with us since then. The day 25-year-old Britney Spears’ mental breakdown fully occurred, with a bald head and an umbrella in hand. Suffering in front of the world stage where everyone was amused by her antics, unaware of the demons she was battling.

Every magazine had an unflattering picture of her on the cover with a cruel headline to accompany the photographs inside the pages. Every entertainment outlet made her the lead story of their shows that week where they’d dissect videos paparazzi took and either laugh about the tragedy or voice their concern. Many assumed she was strung out on drugs or had a drinking problem for her to be acting this way.

No one thought she was suffering from a mental illness.

As Rolling Stone posted in an article from around that time: “More than any other star today, Britney epitomizes the crucible of fame for the famous: loving it, hating it and never quite being able to stop it from destroying you.”

The disturbing images and videos we vividly remember were shocking to our eyes at the time and still are. The tabloid tale is often brought up today as we commend Britney for her flawless recovery and transformation. She has reclaimed her throne of being the pop princess and she’s better now than she was as a 17-year-old back in the late 1990’s.

In today’s standards we would never scrutinize a star in the public eye for their mental illness, but back then it was overlooked. Shocking to think back on, isn’t it?

What’s even more sickening is that the media openly provoked her and humiliated her even more, making her the laughing stock at the MTV VMA’s later that September. Her nails were chipped and unevenly done, her wig was a mess, her choreography was as awful as her lip-syncing ability that night, and she was a hot mess. And what did MTV do about it? Continue to showcase that side of her. They should never have reached out to her team and asked for her to perform like that and purposely embarrass her the way they did. They cared more about the ratings than a victim being overcome by her mental illness that they weren’t helping.

The life changing moment for her came in January of 2008 when she was hospitalized on a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold after refusing to turn her sons, Sean, then 2, and Jayden, then 14 months, over to her ex-husband Kevin Federline.

After seeking psychiatric help and earning a court-approved conservatorship (otherwise known as a guardianship) where her father Jamie and a lawyer are responsible for her financial, personal, and other key decisions.

Although details of her mental illness are still undisclosed, she was noticeably suffering from something major. The world was too busy making fun of her rather than looking at the bigger picture. Maybe there was foul play with drugs, but don’t you wonder why she was using, to begin with? She would be screaming at paparazzi to leave her alone and didn’t want the attention of fans. She was constantly under scrutiny for every move she made, in a fishbowl for all of us to watch. She had no privacy.

In today’s day and age, if a celebrity was seen doing the things Spears was during her mental breakdown no one would dare make rude comments in the media, but offer their support instead. Why has there been a change all of a sudden? It’s fantastic that the world has embraced mental illness and has made more of an effort to be more mindful, but why didn’t Spears get the same respect and privacy other stars like Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato received during their breakdowns?

It’s been 10 years and Britney Spears has forever changed the way we look at celebrities with a mental illness. Unfortunately, it was at her expense and the memories are often painful for everyone to remember, but today she is the complete opposite. She is slaying the stage in her Las Vegas residency, is experiencing financial and personal success again, and has the world at her fingertips with their support being reciprocated.

She’s how we learned that celebrities aren’t invincible and can be vulnerable to the pressures of society, and she’s the reason we can all learn to be fighters. Because if she can come back from the rough years of the mid-2000’s, you can come back from your demons too.

Feature image via WeHeartIt



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