amanda bynes

Amanda Bynes’ recent public breakdown has generated a strange response, but not an especially surprising one. We have, after all, seen it many times before.

If an ordinary person suffered an apparent mental breakdown like Amanda Bynes has in recent weeks, the overriding response from other people would be sympathy and concern. With Bynes, however, the reaction has largely been ridicule and laughter.

A quick search for ‘Amanda Bynes’ on Twitter reveals a long list of people, all lining up to take shots at her, to mock her, to ridicule her, to insult her.

Stop and take a second to really think about that. A human being is being mocked for suffering what we can only assume are actual, genuine and serious mental health problems.

It is another chapter in a story that seems all too common in Hollywood. A successful child star grows up, finds the transition to adulthood difficult, has a public meltdown and is hounded and ridiculed by the tabloid press.

The cliche is that the media build stars up to knock them down again and while it is a cliche, it may also be the harsh reality of the situation. Certainly, Amanda Bynes’ breakdown, like Lindsay Lohan’s in recent years, sells magazines, sells newspapers and generates web traffic. You are reading an article about Bynes right now.

While the tabloid press can certainly be accused of shamelessly profiting from such cases and can perhaps be blamed for exacerbating the problems, the reaction also says something about society as a whole. About all of us.

It seems we cannnot get enough of seeing rich, attractive, successful people – especially former child stars and especially women – fly off the rails. Everyone loves a train wreck.

There could be a whole range of psychological explanations for such a response. Perhaps we view child stars as spoiled brats, who have had everything handed to them, so we struggle to empathise when they have a problem. Maybe we struggle to see Hollywood superstars as actual people, with real feelings and emotions.

Or could it be that we are all cynics and we don’t really believe they have problems at all? After all, they act for a living, so why couldn’t they act out a breakdown publicly to generate attention? It works for them and it isn’t completely beyond the confines of reality.

Whatever the reason, the simple fact is, mental health problems do not discriminate based on a person’s income. It is said that as many as one in five people will experience mental illness in their lifetime and many celebrities have suffered greatly in the past.

Okay, so she might just be faking it for attention, but is that the most likely explanation here? Probably not. It is quite likely that Amanda Bynes has serious psychological issues and needs help.

The Hollywood machine has a habit of churning out young actresses who experience serious issues in later life. Pushy parents, constant media attention, being given too much too soon, the intense objectification that Hollywood brings and even sex abuse rings have been blamed for this in the past.

In Bynes’ case, it seems quite telling that her breakdown has centred around her appearance and the appearance of others. She told Rihanna she wasn’t pretty enough. She has started a crusade against magazines that publish less-than-flattering images of her. She accused a policeman of sexual assault and told him he wasn’t attractive enough to get intimate with her. Everything is about beauty or perceptions of beauty.

And why wouldn’t it centre around these ideas of beauty? Her entire career centred around her appearance and she has been dissected and objectified from a young age. Her beauty as a teenager was her biggest commodity and getting attention on that basis is all she has known.

As shallow as that may seem to some, there are a variety of mental illnesses which centre on these same ideas – perceptions of beauty and the link between physical appearance and self-worth. These problems can be extremely serious, often leading to depression and substance abuse, especially with women.

Regardless of the problems she has or the causes of those problems, Amanda Bynes’ breakdown may have placed her under the microscope once again, but it should also place the tabloid media and all of us there too.

When Britney Spears suffered a meltdown several years ago, one of the most memorable things to come out of the entire episode was the ‘Leave Britney Alone!’ youtube video, which went viral. As funny and dramatic as that video was, something about it was largerly overlooked.

The central message of the video absolutely right. Britney should have been left alone to cope with her issues away from press intrusion and away from public ridicule. Shouldn’t Amanda Bynes be afforded the same luxury?

That way, if she has serious problems, she gets the privacy to deal with them. In the unlikely event that she is faking her issues to seek attention, this would also deny her the attention she craves. It is a win-win situation for everyone.

Well, it would be, if only we didn’t enjoy watching train wrecks so much.

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This article was first posted on June 2, 2013