Britney Spears

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I’ve written a previous post about celebrity lives and why they predispose people towards problems with their mental health.  In it I mention Britney Spears, who has been regularly described in the press as ‘troubled’ for some time now.  Things took an altogether more serious turn when on Thursday she was taken to a psychiatric hospital under a 72-hour detention.  This was the second time she has been taken to hospital in recent weeks, the first was after she refused to relinquish her children  who were to be taken into the care of her ex-husband.  On this occasion, in a pantomime show some 30 cars trailed her ambulance, twelve of them belonging to the police.  By way of contrast, here in London it can take a week to get one police car to attend a section.

Recent news is that Ms Spears period of involuntary stay in hospital has been extended to 14 days.  Not that I have given it a great deal of thought, but I’d always considered that Spears’ problems were likely to be personality based, that is to say as the result of learned behaviour, rather than because of a serious mental illness.  Even if I am right, it appears that her problems have become much more severe than just throwing her toys around when someone refuses to pick out the blue M&Ms. 

Her behaviour certainly has been bizarre, Associated press report that

Since her breakup with Federline, Spears has been seen at public events in short skirts and without underwear, has shaved her head bald, run over a photographer’s foot with her car, left the scene of a fender bender, flogged another car with an umbrella and abandoned a car in traffic when it had a flat tire. Recently, she was seen sitting on a sidewalk, holding her pet dog and crying

elsewhere it is said that before she was admitted she had not slept for five days.

It’s impossible from this vantage point to know what’s wrong with Spears.  The diagnosis of mental illness requires a period of assessment and often is only settled with response to treatment.  Emma Forrest writing in the Guardian seems to have decided that she’s got bipolar disorder and writes an article sympathetic to Spears detailing her own experiences.  Biopolar has become quite a fashionable diagnosis these days – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a survey where I ask people whether they think it’s okay to be bipolar now that Stephen Fry says that he has it. 

Let me finish on a confession: I’m more than a bit disgusted with myself for writing a post about Britney Spears when the best medicine for her is for us all to leave her alone.  But that won’t happen. 

Britney’s perfume still selling well – Britney and the Sweet Smell of Distress Laura Barton Guardian 25 February 2008

Lisa Appignanesi’s Out of Control Guardian 10 March 2008 – an excellent article discussing her mental health problems in the context of how differently she would have been treated were she a man.

2 Responses to “Britney Spears”

  1. Matt says:

    Out of interest, you implies that celebrities are more prone to mental health problems. Do you suspect this to be the case or are we more inclined to hear about their problems as a result of the media spotlight which is shed upon them?

  2. Frontier Psychiatrist says:

    Matt, thanks for your comment.

    My position is that being a celebrity isn’t very good for your mental health and probably attracts people to its ranks who are a bit unstable (I would cite any of the recent Big Brother contestants as evidence for this). But this is only on the basis of anecdotal evidence and not rigorous. The point you make about us hearing about celebrities mental health problems more is a valid one. They may have no more mental health problems than the rest of us, it’s just that they are reported more giving an incorrect impression. If we were to conduct a scientific study this problem would be called a bias – specifically an observation bias in this case.

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