Internet, we need to have a talk.

I’ve had a number of readers ask why I’ve neglected to write about Amanda Bynes this last year. It’s simple, really. I don’t believe that celebrities are “fair game,” and that, when they have very human and very difficult struggles, I should capitalize on those things by writing an article, however well-intentioned. I believe they are deserving of privacy and respect, by virtue of their being people.

However, I’m making an exception here, because in the midst of the negative and callous press that Bynes has received, I think it’s time we had a chat about it from a different perspective. And then, after we’re done, I think it’s time we stop speculating about it altogether. Deal?

First and foremost, there is no way for us to know what, if anything, Bynes has been diagnosed with. The family has denied schizophrenia and bipolar diagnoses. And when I write this article about Bynes, I am only operating on the possibility – not the assumption – that these diagnoses are true.

Until Amanda Bynes comes out and self-identifies this way, it is not our place to make an assumption about her mental state. Most of us are not psychiatrists, and even if we were, none of us can make a diagnosis based on a Twitter feed. And it is Bynes’ prerogative to keep certain aspects of her life, including her health care, private.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to roll with the possibility, not the assumption, that Bynes may have bipolar and schizophrenia.

And on that note, I’m going to offer you a sobering statistic:

People with co-occurring bipolar and schizophrenia have one of the highest suicide attempt rates of any group. 70.6% of these individuals will attempt suicide in their lifetime.

You would think this would frighten us, and that we would be offering Bynes compassion on the mere basis that what she may be facing is, without a doubt, deadly.

Yet the vast majority of press and articles surrounding Bynes’ mental state seems to ignore the stark reality of her struggle, and instead, opt to mock her erratic and unusual behavior. Rather than recognizing that she may have an illness, they have turned mental illness into a spectacle to watch, enjoy, and ridicule.

We, as a culture, are alarmingly desensitized to the seriousness of mental illness, particularly when it affects celebrities. Whenever a famous person has a “breakdown,” or goes off to rehab, there is always a sensationalized headline and a gawking that we collectively do. We treat it like a performance to consume and be shocked by, to laugh at, to enjoy.

We have made mental illness into a form of entertainment, and this is reflected in the articles that have been written about Amanda Bynes as of late.

If no one has explained this to you, let me be the first to say that it is morally repugnant that we, as a society, are mocking mentally ill people.

If it is indeed true that Amanda Bynes has both bipolar and schizophrenia, she faces an uphill battle. These are both diseases with high mortality rates, and devastating symptoms that are difficult to treat. And while she faces these illnesses, the entire world is watching. To have the audacity of laughing and poking fun as she struggles with these painful disorders is truly disgusting.

It’s all fun and games until someone dies, as was the case with Robin Williams. When celebrities have very public “breakdowns,” we find them entertaining, sensational, intriguing. When celebrities die from these illnesses, however, we grieve for them, celebrate their lives, and profess our sympathy for their struggle.

Amanda Bynes may be battling two illnesses that could very easily kill her. Why is she not receiving the same level of respect, tact, and compassion that we afford those who have already died at the hands of these same illnesses?

Are we only deserving of dignity and respect if we die?

Does Amanda Bynes need to die by suicide before we will start valuing her life? How fucked up is that?

No matter what Bynes posts on twitter, or what wigs she wears, what we need to understand as outsiders is that something very difficult and frightening is happening to Amanda Bynes — and it is irresponsible to talk about it any other way, whether it’s to poke fun at it, or reduce it to her being “crazy.” In either scenario, it diminishes her personhood.

Why this reminder needs to happen is beyond me, but apparently it does: Bynes needs compassion, not ridicule, not laughter. Her struggles, whatever they may be, do not exist for your enjoyment.

Anyone who thinks an involuntary psychiatric hold is fun or amusing is horribly misguided. Anyone who thinks psychosis or paranoia is a walk in the park has clearly never been there. Anyone who thinks schizophrenia or bipolar is hilarious has never had their life devastated by these disorders.

I have. And I can tell you – there’s no pain on earth quite like it.

Anyone who has forgotten that Amanda Bynes is a human being first and foremost needs to step back, and do some serious soul-searching.

Any journalist or columnist who thinks Bynes’ behavior is great material for a lighthearted article needs to reexamine their motivations, and decide for themselves what kind of writer they want to be. Someone who profits off of someone’s pain? Or someone with integrity?

As someone with bipolar disorder, I want to offer a reminder to those who do not suffer from the disorder that making a mockery out of our struggle is dehumanizing. This should go without saying, but apparently it must be said: Mental illness is not a joke. Mental illness is not funny. Mental illness does not exist to amuse you.

If Amanda Bynes has taught us anything, it’s that mental illness can, in fact, touch anyone. It exists in every community, every city, every race, every social class, every gender. Celebrities are not immune to these devastating disorders. In fact, 13.6 million Americans live with a serious mental illness, and if Amanda Bynes is among them, she will need support and compassion to get through it.

What message are we sending, as journalists, bloggers, and writers, if we treat mental illness with the same brevity and amusement as writing about Kim Kardashian’s ass?

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Did you cry when Robin Williams died, but laugh when Amanda Bynes was taken to the hospital? Why is that? I’m challenging you to really think about the ways that we treat folks with mental illness.

When we make these disorders into a joke, we become complicit in creating a culture where mentally ill people are taught to feel ashamed, isolated, and broken. And when we uphold that stigma instead of challenging it, it’s not surprising that so many people with these illnesses opt to take their own lives.

We need to do better. Not just for Amanda Bynes, but for all the people worldwide who suffer from these disorders.

It’s not a spectacle. It’s a goddamn illness.

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UPDATE (10/20/14): Due to the confusion surrounding the title, the article has been renamed from “It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Dies: Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness,” to omit the first portion. The intent of the original title was to compare and contrast the treatment of celebrities before and after they die — never to suggest that Bynes had passed away.

UPDATE (10/22/14): A new article has been written in response to this piece going viral.

UPDATE (11/9/14): Commenters have pointed out that co-occurring bipolar and schizophrenia is commonly referred to as “schizoaffective disorder.”

UPDATE (11/14/14): There is now an animated version of this article!

As of 11/15, comments have been disabled on this article.

 

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588 comments

  1. Thank you. This is so well written and SO important for people to hear. It’s a huge problem in our society and I really appreciate you bringing it to light. Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have two questions….

      Are mental disorders a disease? Wouldnt a “disease” intimate it is something we catch by one method or another from each other or from other living organisms?
      I’ve never heard of someone catching manic depression or schizophrenia…

      Who is Amanda Bynes.

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      1. Diseases are not necessarily contagious. A contagious disease can also be called a communicable disease. For example, parkinson’s disease is not contagious but it is still a disease because it affects the nervous system in a negative way.

        Amanda Bynes is an actress. She put out quite a few movies around the same time Lindsay Lohan was making lots of movies too.

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      2. A disease does not have to be infectious. For example, hereditary diseases, autoimmune diseases and malignancies. These are called ‘non-communicable diseases’.

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      3. A ‘disease’ doesn’t have to be contagious. Cancer is a disease, yet you can’t catch that from someone. Alzheimer’s is a disease, yet you don’t catch that either. Etcetera etcetera. You don’t catch these things, you develop them. So yes, indeed, mental illness is a disease.
        Disease: a disorder of structure or function, physically or mentally, in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location.

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      4. That would be a virus you’re thinking of. Yes, many mental disorders could easily be classified as a disease. Disease can develop on its own, think of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Both Diseases, you can’t “catch” either of them, they develop.

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      5. Hi there! Nowadays, mental illnesses are referred as to brain diseases in the scientific literature. Even thought this may not be entirely true because other factors play a role in their onset

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      6. First, thank you so much for this article. I wrote a blog post on a similar topic, but, sadly, about individuals in my own life telling me that I “don’t have anything to be depressed about.” I have bipolar disorder, was diagnosed in 2006. The manner in which people think about mental illness is appalling.

        Second, @Pip, mental disorders are absolutely a disease. Typically they involve inconsistencies in the concentrations of necessary neurotransmitters in the brain. Disease is not defined by its ability to be passed from one person to another, but trust me, if it was, I would voluntarily sequester myself to keep from passing this on to even my worst enemy. It would do you well to do some research into what defines disease. To speak of my own experience though, this is not a choice I have made. Believe me, I would not have chosen it under any circumstances. Imagine the absolute best you have ever felt in your life and then the absolute worst you have ever felt in your life. Then imagine that every morning you wake up to one or the other. No middle ground exists. You are either best or worst, and have absolutely no control over it. To top that off, I can go from best to worst in a matter or moments depending on what happens in the day. Far more often though, I have no idea why I feel one way or the other and there is no specific reason for it. It truly is a painful diagnosis, can be equally as devastating as any other disease, and is deadly far more often than most realize.

        Seriously, please, educate yourself on the definition of disease. Cancer is not contagious, but do you deny its definition as a disease? What about multiple sclerosis? Lupus?

        Liked by 1 person

      7. dis·ease
        dəˈzēz/
        noun
        a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.
        “bacterial meningitis is a rare disease”
        synonyms: illness, sickness, ill health;

        You are obviously not educated. Everyone knows that any mental disorder is a disease just like any other “bacterial” or “Viral” disease. Did you go to school at all? Maybe you should. I have a dual degree, maybe you can borrow one of mine?

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      8. Pip, try to think of it more like Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis, or Type 1 Diabetes. Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia are disorders caused by a complex interaction between genes and the environment and are highly heritable.

        Great article! The more we fight stigma and shame associated with mental health, the more people will access effective mental health care.

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      9. Thank you Holly for your reply.
        Parkinson’s disease is something that attacks a physical section of the body… hence the disease bit… not communicable but the elements are pretty much the same with each case…
        Mental issues as in Disorders of the brain… is each one the same and can it be defined as a disease that attacks a physical element of the body???
        Or is each case dissimilar due to outside stimuli and how we interact/react to this stimuli (be it positive or negative? )

        Not belong recalcitrant… i just enjoy debate 🙂

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  2. Yes! I was just thinking this yesterday and considering writing a post just like this. You said it!

    Her family came out long before her rehab visit to say they feared she had a mental illness (genetic in their family), but I think with her recent breakdown, they may have been trying to appease her by publicly stating that these were untrue. (Telling a person in a mentally ill state they are mentally ill infuriates them. I know. I have four kids with bipolar disorder.)

    No matter. Regardless of what they say or don’t see, it’s not right to ridicule her. Obviously SOMETHING isn’t right. Leave her be or help her. Do not use her as a form of entertainment. It just adds to the stigma already so prevalent.

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    1. Wow I really like your post and the respect you have for people with Bi polar. I have it and I fight everyday just to take my meds or am I well and don’t need them. A few times I chose I didn’t need them and flushed them. I did cry when Robin Williams died, but yelled at stupid people when they were insulting Amanda Bynes. I have people in my family that just claim I am a drug addict because of the meds I am on by a Dr. Sometimes it bothers me when people don’t understand, But then I have to remember they could have some type of disease that I don’t understand.

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  3. I would like to thank you for this Article. If it takes Robin Williams suicide to open people’s eyes, then lets all learn from this. Mental Illness is not to be taken lightly, these are peoples lives that you are dealing with. Can only imagine being in the spot light, how much more pressure you would feel, with people mocking you. Thank you.

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    1. Excellent and sensitive article. I hope it can effect the the knowledge of people here there and
      everywhere.

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  4. Thank you! Thank you! So many people need to read this and I hope that my sharing it assists in doing just that. Your words held a meaning that is dear to my heart and one that I hope others realize is true; “When we make these disorders into a joke, we become complicit in creating a culture where mentally ill people are taught to feel ashamed, isolated, and broken. And when we uphold that stigma instead of challenging it, it’s not surprising that so many people with these illnesses opt to take their own lives.” Mental illness is my reality and often family doesn’t even understand or feel it’s okay to discuss. It is okay to talk about and the more we do, the more others will learn.

    Your words are greatly appreciated.

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  5. People used to treat the mentally ill poor as a tourist attraction until not that long ago. Now we treat the mentally ill rich and famous the same way, as though being either rich or famous somehow made you immune to mental illness. Good post, thanks

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  6. If a person with no hair or eyebrows and their head wrapped in a kerchief was walking down the street -you may say to yourself, “They must be battling cancer.” You don’t mock or point, you may even be uncomfortable seeing that. The truth is when you see the behavior of someone, from the old person talking to themselves on the street- to the well dressed businessperson twitching and talking to themselves while filling his car up with gas…they are possibly battling a mental sickness. Would you mock or point fingers? Mental illness is in the mind, and just because you can’t see it, or know what it is like – we shouldn’t judge anything that anyone is doing…plain and simple.

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  7. Not to play devil’s advocate but you do realize that using the comparison of Robin Williams to Amanda Bynes is extremely rude and takes away from the main point. Yes, we all cried when Williams passed away: he was in a Disney movie that changed our childhoods, countless deep films with messages that hold depth and despair all at once, and of course he was known to be one of the pioneers of modern day improv comedy. Of course we cried. We would have cried if he died peacefully in his sleep at 92. And the “sensationalism” around his mental disorder was minimal because he was very honest with himself and the public about it. Meanwhile Bynes is very young: her repertoire consists of some standard skit comedy, a few chick flicks, and maybe one or two actually good movies. I’m not saying she won’t be missed by those of us who grew up on “All That” and “The Amanda Show” but realistically her death will neither be earth-shattering nor will it affect nearly the numbers that Williams did. He was a master of his art. She should be compared to someone in then industry that is more like her with her niche or talent. She also does not seem to be aware of the fact that she needs help (maybe due to her age and immaturity) which means she is nowhere on the road to being better from WHATEVER illness she has. I’m not laughing, I’m pitying and waiting expectantly for the news to come where she finally owns up to needing help. Please reconsider using Williams as a comparison point to get clicks because you are really doing a dishonor to both actors who are incomparable in every way possible.

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    1. If you believe my blog or my writing is about “getting clicks,” you’ve missed the point.

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      1. The point is you used a terrible comparison and you are generalizing mental illnesses by comparing someone who had depression who has passed away to someone still alive who may or may not have a mental illness and probably not depression. Apples to oranges in the world of psychology.

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      2. Prior to anything else I’d like to say this is a truly excellent post with great insight and you’ve elaborated your point very well. Thank you for speaking up about what is most certainly a very important issue.

        With regards to the above comment, I think the point that Cathy was trying to make (and I may be wrong about this; it was horribly elaborated upon) is that the contradiction that you have noted between the public’s treatment of Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams may be skewed in that people don’t laugh at Amanda because she’s alive and cry for Robin because he’s dead; but because of the popularity of the two individuals in question.

        To elaborate the point let’s take another issue and two different celebrities: Substance abuse and the cases of Charlie Sheen and Justin Bieber. Both of them have appeared to have (for want of a better expression) ‘gone of the rails’ over the past few years with their intake of various substances. The predicaments that Charlie and Justin have found themselves in have been similar. Yet when Charlie appears in the news for something he’s done whilst under the influence, we laugh WITH him. Conversely, when Justin does something similar, the world at large laughs AT him…but of course, both are still alive. The difference between the two is not life and death but perception by the public: Charlie Sheen is considered by the masses to be extremely ‘cool’ and ‘talented’, whilst Justin Bieber is not deemed as such.

        In the case of the two celebrities you’ve picked up on, Robin Williams is seen to be a hugely talented and entertaining guy, known by everyone, whereas I’d never even heard of Amanda Bynes prior to reading this post. Admittedly that may be because I’m from the UK and maybe the things that Amanda has starred in haven’t made it big over here (and I’m guessing it’s another story entirely in the USA), but there’s undeniably a huge gulf between public knowledge (and, perhaps by extension, acceptance) of Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams.

        I don’t believe many people would have laughed at Robin’s condition when he was alive and stopped laughing when he died. I doubt they would have laughed at his plight to begin with. I’d also hope that the lowly people who laugh at Amanda’s condition now would develop at least enough decency not to laugh at her if she were to die as a result of this (heaven forbid that happens), but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

        All of that said, ultimately it’s irrelevant as to why we make a mockery of people with mental illness; be it because they’re still alive or because they’re unpopular the core point of your blog still stands: poking fun at people who are suffering is highly immoral and needs to end.

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      3. “cathy”
        You literally are saying that one person (e.g..Robin) is better then another (amanda)
        How can you think it is acceptable in the society we live in, to attempt to promote the idea that one persons life is more important. We are all human, robin wasn’t perfect, but he was great. The same for amanda.
        You can not simply define a person worth based on what you read in the papers. You’re ignorant to their lives, their families and their situation. this idea you have proposed is insulting, pathetic and while good-intentioned promoting everything a decent person (including robin) despises.
        Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

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    2. Really???? In no way is this article comparing these two actors as equals in their professions. It is stating how we felt sad for Robin in his ability to make everyone happy and laugh but himself, yet the same can be said about Amanda, but instead of having any empathy or compassion for her, she is laughed at and mocked… for the same thing, mental illness! It doesn’t matter that Robin was a better actor. We should all feel for what any person with mental illness has to go through, from beloved public figures to the homeless man on the street.

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    3. What Disney movie was Robin Williams in that “changed our childhoods”?

      Bynes very young? 28yrs old.

      Isn’t aware of the fact she needs help “due to age or immaturity? Please read about schizophrenia (a severe illness) and what 55% of schizophrenics suffer from (hint: google “anosognosia”).

      She may never “own up” to needing help (hint: google “anosognosia”).

      Robin Williams and Amanda Bynes are, in fact, comparable:
      1. They are actors,
      2. They had/have a possibly fatal mental illness,
      3. They are recognizable/identifiable, and most importantly,
      4. They are human beings, regardless of level of “success”

      In my opinion, your response was far more “rude” to those of us who live with mental illness.

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      1. Not to take away from anyone’s point, but Robin Williams played Genie in Aladdin. I think the point of this article is more that both had struggles with similar problems and sadly Robin lost his battle. And you bash her, but as a young adult, I grew up with her and am very much a fan. Think before you post people.

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    4. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it is insulting to either actor to be compared to one another. BUT, I was going to make a similar comment about how this comparison may not be considering various other factors about why/how we ridicule one and revere another.

      First off, there is the sociopolitics involved around gendering of mental health issues – which just to lightly touch on would be around the idea that women are just crazy! For every one media firestorm around Charlie Sheen there’s another eight for females that may not even be as erratic. More importantly in this case Amanda is an attractive, young, woman, who “had it all” and didn’t use it how society deems appropriate (obviously b.s) and is squandering it away, whereas Robin Williams was a dedicated humanitarian that also was a comedic great and has a couple Oscars too – Amanda wouldn’t be considered an ‘A’ list movie star. So, to your point, there is absolute valuation of someone else’s life over another’s.

      I wish we as the general public and the media were to respect and treat everyone with equivalent amounts of compassion, but I don’t see that switch happening anytime soon in a capitalist society that commodifies everything into numbers or easy to digest “fake family values” driven sentimentalism. Just take a look at the education or justice system let alone mental health or queer right (where the national focus is on a heteronormative idea of marriage instead of employment, housing, basic access to resources, teen homelessness etc.)

      So with that set aside, I absolutely, whole-heartedly agree with you that as a human being they deserve the same amount of respect (which is the point of your article and therefore makes sense to compare them). I know I’m a little jaded, and I hope this isn’t discouraging, as I would want you to keep talking about this as much as possible, because it’s the only way to be heard. Also as someone who suffers from her fair share of mental health issues, and a staunch advocate for removing the shame and stigma for talking about it, this post is a greatly written short bit on some very intricate issues. Thankyou for self-disclosing about your own struggles with bi-polar too. That takes a lot of strength and very admirable :).

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      1. Thank you for including the gender component! I did an interview with Maclean’s Magazine where I discuss very briefly how sexism plays a part in the treatment of Bynes (it’s linked on my main website, samdylanfinch.com, if you want to find it, or you can google for it — it’s written by Emma Teitel and it’s amazing).

        I loved this comment in general — thanks for your very thoughtful feedback.

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    5. You clearly missed the entire point of this article. Sure, it could be argued that Robin Williams is much more “successful” (success in quotations because it is a highly subjective term) as an actor, but that is far from the point. Comparing Robin Williams to Amanda Bynes has nothing to do with industry standards of acting, but rather the reactions by society to what may or may not be severe mental illness. The writer of this article is trying to point out the fact that we as a society do not maturely react to these kinds of things until it is too late; and we need to make a change. As he explicitly stated, he is writing on the assumption that she does in fact have these disorders. In which case, laughing and sensationalizing such behavior will only make her condition worse. I feel that the quote “people never get the flowers while they can still smell them” is appropriate for this. How can you be so blind to see that? Not once is there a comparison to who is the superior actor, because that is far from the motive.

      Note to the author: very well written article. I applaud you for sharing such personal information while drawing comparisons. And anyone disagreeing with your attempt to find common ground between Robin Williams and Amanda Bynes simply needs to reevaluate their ability to interpret an essay. Thank you for sharing.

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    6. Cathy, as a physician and a family member of a person with bipolar disorder, I feel compelled to point out that lack of insight into one’s condition is actually a symptom of mania. If a person’s illness actually prevents them from understanding that they are sick, that is very different from voluntarily denying help. A person may be completely accepting of their diagnosis and need for treatment once they are well, but if a mood episode begins and their rational thinking and insight is lost, it is very difficult to convince them that they need treatment at that time. This is very different from a person who is of sound mind refusing treatment.

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    7. Cathy, do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the point, passing you by. Quick! Catch it before it’s gone!

      Like

  8. Good article. I too suffer from bi-polar, accompanied with anxiety and depression the leads to extreme insomnia. I also am a writer and a rapper so I think some of the mental illnesses attribute to creativity and the mental capacity to be artistic. With that being said, I don’t believe everyone is laughing at the fact that she has a mental disorder and more of the things that her disorder makes her say. You can’t argue that some of her twitter posts have been extremely rude. And it’s hard to have sympathy for someone who is so self centered and self aggrandizing. But as a sufferer myself I know that isn’t really her conscious self making a fully formed decision about what to say. The problem with celebrities is you truly never know the full story. The full truth. For all we know this could be a publicity stunt, because let’s face it, Amanda who? Bynes has fallen off. Become irrelevant. For whatever case this mental disorder thing has given her a lot of publicity. Much needed publicity. There’s always two sides to the story and we don’t know one. And only half of the other. So while I agree that mental disorder isn’t a joke. And it’s fucked up that anyone would ever laugh at someone’s pain. Unless you’ve been there you’ll never know the personal anguish and hopelessness that comes with mental disorder. I can attest to the suicide statistic. I’m a statistic.

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  9. Great article!
    It is also important to mention that while people “have to expect” mockery when opening up, a lot of people will keep their struggles a secret and not open up about it. Therefore they go untreated for years!
    I also wrote something on the matter: http://t.co/tcuCsWPBnz

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  10. Cathy – how can you reduce the importance of someone down to this, “…Bynes is very young: her repertoire consists of some standard skit comedy, a few chick flicks, and maybe one or two actually good movies. I’m not saying she won’t be missed … but realistically her death will neither be earth shattering nor will it affect nearly the numbers that Williams did? So Bynes doesn’t deserve the same level of compassion as Williams because she isn’t as famous?
    The intent here, I believe, is to recognize that when people are struggling we should be supporting them – showing some empathy. Our human kindness shouldn’t rest on a scale of success but more so on the fact that we are all gifted with an endless supply of love and we should use it wisely and often.

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  11. Cathy I found your comments appalling. Let us all reserve our compassion only for those people who are as relevant and talented as Robin Williams, oh, and let’s hold off on that compassion until the person is dead. You are the one who missed the point of this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Love this post, most people live their lives judging others by thinking that makes them strong and others weak. Mental Illness is not different from a heart condition and it should be treated with the same respect. EDUCATE YOURSELVES PEOPLE!!!

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    1. James, I think you took my comment the wrong way. I was being sarcastic, because I was shocked at Cathy’s comments. Read her comments and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

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      1. I think you’ll find James was actually responding to Cathy’s comments, same as you. Look at the spelling of ‘Cathy’ in James post. Just thought I’d clear that one up.

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  13. Reblogged this on Tabby Time and commented:
    This article is perfect. There was a few years back when I was learning more about personal responsibility of emotions where I had decided, from a very misinformed set of education, that mental illness wasn’t real. I decided that mental illness was simply people not taking responsibility for their poor emotional state control. And I came to realize over a few years that I was actually a huge jerk by believing that. After researching and interacting with people with varying levels of mental illness I began to grow a sense of compassion and understanding for people who experience mental anguish.

    About a year and a half ago, following a miscarriage and the ending of my marriage, I was having a lot of difficulty being “normal” and coping. I wasn’t sleeping. I had developed an intense fear of dying. I had panic attacks nearly every day. My job functions were close to being impacted and I knew I had to make a change. So I asked for a pill to help. First they gave me Xanax to control the immediate symptoms. This helped after the panic attack happened but I needed a break from them altogether so I went to my doctor who prescribed me an anti-depressant. It seemed to make things worse so I went back and she put me on Wellbutrin.

    The Wellbutrin was what did the trick and allowed me to get my virtual space in a place that I could make sense of my life without the fears and doubts and struggles rising to the forefront of my thoughts.

    I stayed in the Wellbutrin for about a year until I decided that I was stable enough to come off and with the guidance from my doctor I began to lessen the frequency of my doses until I didn’t take them anymore. The Xanax took longer to come off of but eventually I did. And I have been restored to the way I was before the stressful events occurred.

    This gave me a peek into the world of mentally ill folks and I have to tell you that the way the world treats them is horrifying at best. There’s so many people who are dismissive of true struggles as if they know what it’s like. Or there are people who have made it over the hump themselves and are dismissive because the answer ended up being easy and they are speaking to people who haven’t found that easy answer on their journey yet. There’s so many ways that people make it known that they think less of you for having a mental illness that’s it adds to the challenges and adds to the feelings of loneliness and abandonment.

    This guys article is a serious look at how our society treats people with mental illness and it’s worth the read and the thought.

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  14. I really liked this post. However, I would like to suggest that it’s not the “illness” that caused Robin Williams’s death or may even cause Amanda Bynes’s death, but that it is the drugs the psychiatrists give not just them, but anyone with mental illnesses. Drugs are not going to save anyone and honestly, I haven’t seen one patient, who was in the hands of a psychiatrist, cured by giving them psychiatry drugs or as they like to call “medicine”.

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    1. Hi, Kelly. I am one such person “in the hands of a psychiatrist,” receiving treatment for severe depression and anxiety. I can tell you with certainty that psychiatric medications helped to save my life, calming me and quieting my mind when I felt so hopeless, on edge and overwhelmed that all I wanted to do was escape- even if that meant death. Am I cured? No- I would not use that word, as I think for me, I will always have a tendency towards anxiety and depression, thanks to genetics, environment, and my own thought processes. However, I would liken my current state of well-being to a remission of sorts, a mental health reprieve, and the psychotropic drugs that you criticize that helped to get me to this place (along with therapy, and time). Medications may not be for everyone, but they can be a big blessing when used judiciously.

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      1. I usually see those kind of comments from people who are anti-medication in general. There isn’t any scientific backing to their statements- they remain ignorant or selectively ignorant to fuel their needs to either belong to a group of people who also hate it, fit in with a spiritual practice that denounces it or overemphasizes individual control and lifestyle changes, or to make their sense of agency less threatened (after all, Kelly used “illness” in the same manner that “medicine” was used, in a diminishing way). I’ve seen it a lot. We live in a very individualistic culture, and the thought that something beyond one’s control can make individuation more difficult—stripping some people of agency—it’s easier to preserve the individualistic, bootstrap delusion by ignoring bodies of scientific evidence. These same people will also ignore firsthand accounts of people who use medications are actually healthier for it.

        This isn’t about any amount of studies they’ve read- it’s about them, and how terrified they are at the thought that mental health isn’t a given, and that some things require pharmaceutical buttresses. That, and all the time these people spend torturing themselves when they could just take an aspirin, they’re bound to want to rationalize it with their anti-Big-Pharma slogans. It’s ignorance, and insecure chest-puffing.

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    2. Actually, the author of this article (hi, how are you?) is under the care of a really excellent psychiatrist, and taking medications daily for bipolar disorder. My quality of life has improved immensely under this kind of care. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but to state that it cannot help a single person is a falsehood to be sure. I’m grateful every day for the doctors who have helped me reach a healthier place; for a long time, I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.

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  15. I appreciate your article both as an academic and someone who is struggling with “mental illness” (I am an NOS-person since I tend to display characteristics of what feels like every anxiety disorder known to man). I believe that another factor in our perception of celebrities struggling with mental illness is that it is normal because creative people are more likely to have emotional struggles. Fortunately, that assumption is not true for most forms of artistic/creative expression (I believe creative writing is the outlier), but whether that is true or not it does not give the general population the right to comment on someone’s mental health. People should be commended for their accomplishments, and their struggles should remain personal unless they choose to speak out or advocate.

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  16. I was completely in love with this article until I got to Kim Kardashian’s ass….
    “What message are we sending, as journalists, bloggers, and writers, if we treat mental illness with the same brevity and amusement as writing about Kim Kardashian’s ass?”
    I challenge you to check yourself again please. Why is it ok to talk about her ass? Why is it ok to poke fun or entertain ourselves at the expense of another human being? Is the line drawn at mental illness? Race? Sexuality? What about size? Too fat? To skinny? Ugly? Stupid?
    COMPASSION. Let’s pass it on!

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    1. That statement was not intended to advocate for the sexist objectification of Kim Kardashian in tabloids — merely pointing out the rubbish that tabloids talk about and the brushstroke all these complicated issues are painted with.

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    2. It wasn’t about how Kim Kardashian looks, but that both our feelings about a body part (Kim), and our disregard of the totality of someone’s misery (Amanda), are given a brief statement. The comparison was about how an entire life was reduced to the same commentary as the body part of another person living a life that is clearly more than a body part.

      It’s a separate problem. Having an ass that some people fetishize, while others ridicule, is not life-threatening. Body shaming and objectification are horrible, but the gravitas given to seeing a person who’s life is completely rocked and out of control should be more than that given in an instance of a negative body comment about someone who is otherwise relatively functioning in their life as a whole.

      Yes, there are lot of objectionable things going on, but having them all in the proverbial holster—ready to draw them any time you see something that reminds you of them (like how the ass metaphor reminded you of body shaming)—and then bringing them up in discussion of a separate problem when no bad intention was displayed, it just divides and makes solidarity impossible. A private message, or a blog post of your own on the subject, would have gotten the point across without deviating from the value of this post.

      In the world of Internet social justice, learning how to compartmentalize is crucial or we’ll all just focus on the negative and spin our wheels.

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  17. Someone needs to make Perez Hilton read this… Seriously. Not that I listen to him willingly, but every time in the last few years I’ve heard him talking it was whining about Amanda or the red headed girl.

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  18. I find labels in general have a dehumanising effect, whether that label is well-intended or not. ‘Mental illness’ when applied as a label (itself a softening of labels like ‘lunatic’ ‘crazy’ ‘deranged’ and so on), becomes a new avatar for the same old slur.
    I feel inclined to agree with previous posters that the issue at stake here may benefit a removal from the ill/healthy binary and move more into a public perception of mental health support as society needing to help (via therapy, medication, homecare etc.) when people need it. Some need it for a long time. Others only for a while. But any label, however nicely worded, will eventually cause hurt.

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    1. As addressed in the FAQ:

      Q: Why do you talk about “mental illness” so much? Why not talk about mental health instead?

      A: I believe that there is a time and a place to talk about mental health more generally. I also believe there is a time and a place to talk about the distinct experience and the stigma of being a person with a mental illness. Mental health and mental illness, simply put, are not the same subject. Related, but not the same.

      The fact that the stigma is so intense that we are discouraged from using the phrase “mental illness” speaks to the need to reclaim this phrase, and break down the misconceptions. I am challenging the dominant narrative of shame, and in order to do that, I have to contend with the dominant script — this includes using the phrase “mental illness.” I am attempting to take this notion of “mental illness” and make it less scary, less stigmatized, and more acceptable. It’s not possible to do this without naming it.

      If I ever get cancer, I’m not going to be talking about cell health, I’m going to talk about the experience of having cancer. If I ever get diabetes, I’m not going to talk about glucose regulation, I’m going to talk about what it’s like to be a person with diabetes. Cell health and glucose regulation are definitely topics of interest and they are related, but the framework is completely different. Mental health is a topic. Mental illness is an experience.

      That being said, if you struggle with your mental health but choose not to name that struggle as an illness, that’s totally your prerogative. I do understand that our identities are complex, and mental health is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. I believe it’s important to self-identify and use whatever framework is best for your particular situation (I talk more about this in a later question).

      You may disagree with this direction, but please bear in mind that the nature of this blog is opinion, and I am not seeking to be the sole authority on this topic. In fact, if I were the sole authority on mental health, we’d all be in big trouble. You are welcome to seek out and share other resources that you feel do a better job of tackling the subject.

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    2. Additionally, pretending these labels do not exist and not engaging with them does not tackle the stigma associated with them. Not discussing “mental illness” makes my job, as a writer who is tackling stigma, impossible. Thanks for your feedback.

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      1. Of course, and I’d never discourage you from doing what you do very well! It just reminded me of this matter of labelling as it comes up a lot with a clinical psychiatrist friend of mine. It’s a sticking point for her and I had the same reaction as you: welp, it’s got to be called something! It’s not an issue with your piece by any means, more just a musing on the day to day challenges of how we as a society deal with the language around sensitive issues and the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t mood which prevails.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi,

    I absolutely love this article and I think that everything you say here is on point. I grew up with the Amanda Show. She was the first celebrity I admired and loved, and I followed her until my teen years. I just recently was checking up on her a few days ago and it makes me so sad that she’s going through this. I really want her to survive, but your article and some videos of appalling paparazzi treatment (disgusting! It is absolutely harassment) made me realize that her mental state isn’t any of my business. She clearly wants and needs to be left alone, and I think that this environment where she can’t turn a corner without people surrounding her with cameras and personal interrogations (and openly making fun of her for hiding her face, pulling scarves off her face, etc) is toxic. She needs a safe space to heal, as you said.

    My faith in humanity is restored because of people like you who understand how appalling it is that we mock and create a stigma around mental illness. I’ve been there. It’s not fun. Praying for Amanda ❤

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  20. When I saw the video of Amanda in the store dancing, I felt so sad for her it’s only obvious that she need help, support, and people who really care about her. I wish the media would stop exploiting her and I pray she gets treatment and counseling to help her cope with what she’s going through.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. good article!! My brother has autism and schizophrenia! And I have battled depression since I was 15 (I’m now 28). And it’s no laughing matter!! I really feel for miss Bynes, I loved her as an actress and maybe that’s why she retired!? Nevertheless I hope she gets the help she needs!!

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  22. Reblogged this on Ugunduzi: A state of Mind and commented:
    In a wee break from my usual self empowerment & passion infused prose, let’s be real for a second. This article is well written and necessary. Compassion for our tribe people, it begins with *I* ~ I choose to intentionally participate in the burden of my neighbour. I will not ignore you. Mental illness is not a game, nor a glamorous sport to be a spectator in. Good job, letsqueerthingsup, this is very well thought out. Xo – miss d

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  23. Coming from a family where many suffer from mental illness, I agree with most of what you say. The only part being that she needs to do some ‘soul-searching’, I don’t agree with that, I think she needs to be properly medicated and have regular counseling and STICK WITH IT. Every time they go off their meds is when sht hits the fan. Good article tho, thank you for writing this

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    1. The line is not that Amanda Bynes needs to do soul-searching.

      It says, quote, “Anyone who has forgotten that Amanda Bynes is a human being first and foremost needs to step back, and do some serious soul-searching.”

      So in other words, the people who have forgotten she isn’t human need to soul-search. Not Amanda herself.

      Thanks for your feedback, glad that the article resonated with you!

      Like

  24. As a nurse this article really hit home for me & I thank you for writing it. Why do we, as a society think we have the right to judge someone for what they’re going though? As a nurse, I’ve seen patients & families at their worst & in my profession we can’t & shouldn’t judge a patient for their behaviours because some of the things they have to face are unimaginable. So my question to society is think about how you’ve behaved when you’ve had to deal with an illness, mental or not, or had to watch a family member go through it & ask yourself what would happen if your behaviours & actions were made public & gossiped about like everyone had the right to judge you? Because that’s exactly what you’re doing to Amanda Bynes & it’s unacceptable. Mental illness does not discriminate against the rich or the poor & we have no right to act like we know what Amanda Bynes is going through because we don’t. Just because she has money does not make mental illness any easier to deal with so why don’t we stop judging her for potentially having an illness that she can’t control? As a nurse I’m asked not to judge others as they go through some of the toughest moments of their life, but why don’t we all have an ounce of compassion & do the same?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. We don’t know if she is suffering from anything, other than the yolo complex so many of today’s youth have. If your in the spotlight and do stupid shit, well people will laugh. I still to this moment don’t know anything she has done nor care to find out. I’ll spend my compassion on those around me who are less fortunate to get top dollar help, than waste another moment on privilege.

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    1. If you don’t care to find out or know anything on the topic, why are you slamming her in the comments?

      Like

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    I will be sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.

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  28. I could not have said this better! Families are torn apart due to mental illnesses. We hide the truth, because people can’t handle it, or don’t want to. How can you laugh about someone obviously hurting? It boggles my mind that we as human beings take pleasure in another persons suffering. We justify it by saying we are kidding, however the person or family dealing with the disorder can’t just laugh it off! We find we can’t get support for fear of rejection or humiliation! Is this the way we should behave? Ask yourself what if this was your sister, daughter or wife. Would you make fun of her suffering than??

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  29. Yeah the original link is still being shared as of 6th Nov 2014. “It’s all fun and games until someone does: Amanda Bynes,…”

    A bit tasteless after the actual hoax about her death. But once it’s out there there’s not stopping it.

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    1. The statement, “it’s all fun and games until someone dies,” refers to it being fun and games while Amanda Bynes is alive, while it is a tragedy that Robin Williams passed.

      In other words, mental illness is funny until it results in death. The article makes this very clear.

      I cannot control if people do not read the article and do not understand the context or the title. I did change the title, however, because folks were not reading the article and making assumptions based on the title, and I didn’t want my article to be a catalyst for that misunderstanding.

      Writers can never fully anticipate how readers will respond to their articles or interpret things.

      I have a group of editors that read each post before it goes live, and no one flagged the title.

      All we can do is make edits where necessary and hope that people will actually read the article instead of jumping to conclusions.

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  30. I think anyone looking to disarm the writers definition of mental illness, is missing the crux of the argument. The truth is we’re all human, the celebrity world leads us to believe their untouchable. When really their lives are the hyper-magnification of the external pressures on us today, the superficiality of the PR construction of self- fall apart. They have divorces, fights just like all of us. It really is their worlds that embody our own of being watched and controlled by judgement. Their existence embodies our desire to have ‘gods’ and perfect leaders but as we watch them struggle, what is to be said for those that don’t have the funding and support they deserve access to. In my opinion my sympathy lacks, because they sold their soul the day they asked for fame. They just didn’t realise the consequences and by not speaking out and burying their noses in coke piles, they’re doing what the rest of us are guilty off. Sweeping these issues under the carpet, more discussion and understanding needs to be distributed in the media to save the fragmentation of our appearances and these tragedies as the cusp of these talking points.

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