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Don’t fuel the mean media machine

Amanda Bynes and the stigmatization of mental illness

Amanda Bynes in 2009
Amanda Bynes in 2009

Growing up, I was obsessed with the hilarious, gorgeous, and super talented Amanda Bynes. She was on a kid’s show called *All That* and in 1999 got her own show aptly called *The Amanda Show*. It was basically Saturday Night Live for 10-year-olds. She was funny and smart and her movies are still great. It seemed like this bright young girl was really headed for stardom.

In the past year headlines made by Amanda haven’t been about her work, but rather her mental health status – a rollercoaster ride that the media has covered in nauseating detail. For those of you out of the loop, she started to display erratic behaviour in person and on Twitter; wearing wigs, obsessing over her diminishing frame, attacking fans and newspapers, and tweeting the most outlandish things. After setting a fire in a driveway, she was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold and was (reportedly) diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The tweets and the headlines disappeared.

For a while it seemed Amanda Bynes was doing better, going to class, and eating healthy. But recent headlines tell a different story: another DUI, an alleged engagement, and shoplifting incidents. The media couldn’t be happier that, once again, Amanda Bynes is newsworthy.

The profit-hungry media circus is awful, but what’s even worse is how it seeps into our cultural norms. Recently, after having a particularly bad day on the job, a good friend of mine said to me, “if Britney (Spears) can survive 2006, you can survive today.” And that’s what has become of mental illness in our society – it’s a big joke.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness is not an uncommon thing. The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. 1 in 100 people suffer from bipolar disorder in Canada; that’s almost 4000 people in Halifax alone! Schizophrenia has the same stats. So this is not an uncommon thing, but celebrities have to go through their highs and lows in the spotlight. It makes a mockery of something that many people have to suffer in silence with.

If it is ok for us to make fun of Amanda Bynes, then how can we expect anyone dealing with similar problems to find the courage to come forward? You would never openly mock a celebrity going through cancer treatment, so why is it ok to mock them when they suffer mentally? Turning these incidents into profit-making headlines only makes it harder for other people to treat their own illnesses. It shrouds the whole issue in a taboo that costs us too many young lives each year.

So consider this: next time Amanda Bynes shows up in a messy wig and tweets something strange about Drake, remember that she is sick. Remember that she needs help, and mocking her or reading the news stories about the “10 Craziest Things Amanda Bynes Has Done” only means we are playing a role in her suffering.


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