Measuring Mental Health on the Britney Scale
Who knew that Britney Spears would become the new metric by which we could measure society's changing attitudes towards mental health?
Way back in 2007, Britney Spears became an icon in a whole new way. She went from being America’s sweetheart to a global poster girl for ‘crazy’ (a word that will not be used in this article beyond this point because it should not be a part of our vernacular anymore!). The warning signs were all there, even as a young teenager I could see them.
Britney’s behaviour was becoming erratic, reckless, and she did some things that were dangerous to her, and those around her. In hindsight, what led up to that infamous night were cries for help, the seconds ticking away on the timebomb that can be untreated mental health issues.
The famous pictures from that night, her with the hair clippers; her standing at the car with the closed umbrella, are all still shared and vivid in our minds today. Why? For the latter, it’s remembered because it’s an internet meme. ‘The older I get, the more I understand 2007 Britney’ is usually the accompanying caption and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, you could argue that it’s a good thing that we have gotten to a place where we can talk about mental health so casually, that we can make jokes about it that seemingly resonate with so many thousands of people.
But the woman in that photograph still exists, she is still a daughter, a sister, and a mother. If I were Britney, I would despise the internet. Her most vulnerable, darkest moments are relentlessly shared on every social media platform, used to gain clicks, and likes, all at the expense of her healing, of her being able to rebuild and move on with her life.
In the new documentary (which I admit I have paused to write this, in a flash of inspiration), huge swathes of people are out, on the streets, defending this woman’s right to her own autonomy. It feels like a beautiful, giant step forward in our attitudes to mental health. No matter what anyone thought about Britney fourteen years ago. No matter how sick she seemed to be.
Thousands, if not millions of people online, have not only accepted that people who have struggled with their mental health can and do get better, they are actually marching and campaigning for this person to get back full autonomy of themselves and their affairs. The documentary feels like a shining beacon of light about to burst through those uncomfortable memes. A tangible piece of work that shows just how far we have come from laughing at the boy sat under his sheets, crying for Britney, begging people to just leave her alone. He was right after all.
This about more than just Britney. This is about starting a conversation around the way we as a society treat those who have had public struggles with their mental health, even those who have an intimidating diagnosis. Education surrounding mental health and the issues people can face needs to improve, we need to talk about the other side of mental health issues, the stigmas and restraints that remain for those who have reached rock bottom and clawed, scratched, and fought their way back to the surface. People who have struggled and are struggling are just people like anyone else, a diagnosis or a breakdown should never mean a life sentence.