Mental Health and Music: What the public reaction to Britney Spears’ breakdown tells us about student mental health

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By Siavash Minoukadeh, Entertainment Subeditor

*This article talks about issues surrounding mental health*

In light of World Mental Health Day, Siavash Minoukadeh reflects upon Britney Spears' highly publicised breakdown of 2007, and the link between music in the media and mental health.

You don’t need to be a morbid 00s pop culture obsessive like me to have heard about Britney Spears’ mental health breakdown in 2007. It was splashed across every trashy tabloid, online gossip blog and TV channels so extensively that it has permeated into our collective cultural history. Even now, it lingers on as a crass joke and tasteless halloween costume. Coming at a time when the two phenomena of celebrity culture and internet media were both at their feverish extreme highs, Spears’ moment of personal anguish was transformed into a global hysteria. Now, twelve years on, the intense public scrutiny that was once reserved for stars like Britney is a pressure we all face.

At the risk of sounding like a boomer, social media has dramatically changed the access people around us - and indeed, complete strangers - have into our lives. Each of us now is a celebrity for a small number of people: people who can see glimpses of our lives on Instagram, snippets of our thoughts on Twitter and potentially quite a lot more on some dating apps. Unlike Britney in the noughties, we don’t need a flock of paparazzi following us to get this content, we willingly upload it ourselves.

In other words, all the factors which were at play in Britney’s intimate mental health issue becoming an international story are now at work in our own lives. While that raises a large number issues, it also means that there are things that we can each learn from the ordeal that Britney went through.

It can happen to anyone

By 2007, Britney had released four albums, performed with Madonna at the VMAs and ...Baby One More Time had shot to #1 in 15 countries and had become the biggest-selling album ever by a teenage artist. She was leading a seemingly dream life with thousands of loving fans and all the money you could ask for. Yet none of this is any protection against mental health problems.

There is a popular perception of those with mental health problems as being outcasts: bullied, isolated and struggling to fit in. However, the reality is that nobody is immune to mental health problems and seeming popular, successful or happy isn’t incompatible with depression, anxiety or any other mental health condition. If it can affect Britney, it can affect any of us as well.

Things build up

Watching Britney sing ‘Gimme More’ at the 2007 VMAs, it can be hard to envisage how a popstar known for her smiley, cheeky persona could end up performing the way she did, spaced out, dispassionate and limp. In the media, Britney came across as a bubbly teenage idol one day, and volatile and dispirited the next. This can give the impression that mental health crises spring up out of the blue with no warning.

Whilst this is true on some occasions, in many cases a drastic crisis is preceded by smaller mental health issues, which left untouched, grow into something larger and more dangerous. In Britney’s case, she has spoken about her struggles with anxiety and how ignoring her mental health for the sake of her career preceded her public crisis. Acknowledging issues as they come up, and seeking treatment for them quickly - no matter how insignificant they might seem - is always better than letting them build up into something much more significant.

People are there for you

Although in 2007, the public reaction to Britney’s crisis was for the most part a cruel one, consisting of judgemental comments and cruel mockery, there are signs that things are improving. Earlier this year, Britney checked into a mental health centre and this time, fans and the wider public were far more supportive. Instead of criticising her for ending her Las Vegas residency, the general sentiment was congratulating her on taking the steps she needed to look after her wellbeing.

This is a heartening change, not only for Britney’s sake, but for all of us. In the last few years, public understanding of mental health has become much more mature, especially amongst young people. Whilst not everyone might be, chances are that your friends will be sympathetic. Especially in a place such as Bristol where the sad effects of untreated mental health issues are on all our minds, people are looking out for each other. If there’s something on your mind, telling those around you is a good place to start.

It gets better

With what must have seemed like every camera in the world pointed at her in one of her lowest moments, it must have seemed to Britney that she would never be able to live that moment. And yet, whilst that moment has not been forgotten, saying the name ‘Britney Spears’ conjures up so many other things more clearly. Tracks like ‘Oops!... I Did It Again’ and ‘Toxic’ are reliable go-tos for DJs on the Triangle.

In fact, what seemed like the end of Britney’s career is now just an interruption. Since 2007, Britney has released four new albums - including hit tracks such as ‘Work B**ch’ and ‘Womanizer’ - had had her own Las Vegas residency. No matter how bad things may seem in the moment, a mental health crisis will never end up being what defines a person.

Don't suffer in silence: If you or anyone you know needs help contact the Student Wellbeing Service on: student-wellbeing@bristol.ac.uk or +44 (0)117 428 4300

Featured Image: Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

AUTHOR

Siavash Minoukadeh

Entertainment subeditor 2019-20 | 2nd year Liberal Arts | Overcaffeinated

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