Paying the cost of vulnerability: The Exploitation of Britney Spears’ Mental Health

Britney Spears. The name itself brings a rush of childhood nostalgia. Be it ‘Oops I Did It Again’ or ‘Toxic’; there is not one amongst us who hasn’t fostered a love for Britney and her art ever since we first heard of her. In the year 2019, though, things changed. The rise of the Free Britney movement brought the ugly details of  America’s sweetheart’s battle with her father- Jamie Spears under the glaring light of public and media scrutiny.

Britney Spears’ conservatorship is a chilling tale of the serious consequences sensationalism and  weaponization of mental health can have on a person’s freedom. It can even result in the shattering of the one  fundamental human right that keeps us grounded: agency over self.

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Britney’s struggle with mental health: a case of abuse of power fueled by media frenzy

During the Hollywood Paparazzi era peak, Spears’ mental health struggles; substance abuse and custody battle were used as fuel to fire up the mechanisms for an increase in ratings. After her separation from her then-husband, Kevin Federline, Spears’ declining mental health became public news. Her numerous visits to the police station, mental health evaluations, public “breakdowns” and subsequent hospitalization were dubbed, by the media, as “crazy” and “unhinged”-   a set of incredibly insensitive terms not unfamiliar to those who suffer mental illnesses.  

Jamie Spears seized this opportunity to further his own self-serving motives. He concocted and manipulated the details of Britney’s mental health and beat it into a narrative that would lay the grounds for his cunning plan: Britney’s conservatorship.

This drastic shift in Britney’s freedom resulted in the making of a tell-all documentary of her life. In it she said, “If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under right now, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day — if that wasn’t there, I’d feel so liberated,” “When I tell them the way I feel, it’s like they hear but they’re really not listening … It’s like, it’s bad. I’m sad.”  An achingly honest statement reverberating of the agonizing frustration she might’ve felt during that time.

This alone is indication enough of the difficult times Britney was forced to live under, but life dealt her  another blow, the cause yet again being her allegedly “confused mental state”. Documents had surfaced saying that Spears lacked the stability to “manage her own financial affairs without being subject to undue influence”, snatching away from her the one thing that her celebrity promised: financial security. This relentless gaslighting, manipulation, and abuse took a huge toll on her. Her journey to regaining control and bettering her mental health had come to a standstill as she was being used by those who had promised to protect her.

The Conservatorship: a consequence of institutional mental health stigma. For employee mental health and emotional wellness email us at

The Conservatorship: a consequence of institutional mental health stigma

Mental health has been stigmatized since time immemorial. In an ideal world mental health would not trigger a slew of hauntingly hurtful comments, untrue suppositions bringing into question a person’s sanity; but regrettably, this dream has to be filed under the bracket of utopian fantasy. We have come a way since the days when people with mental illnesses were being termed as social deviants and threats to society, but we are far from where we should be. Britney’s plight under her conservatorship is the proof.

Despite the repeated pleas for the repeal of her conservatorship, on the grounds of it constricting her freedom to a suffocating degree, the courts continued to deny them. Britney’s vulnerability was met by nothing but brass-necked,  stone-cold judgments. This is a gross result of systemic stigma mental health and metal illness carry with them. The callousness of the conservatorship  went a step further when it refused Spears’ decision of having her IUD removed, and put her on medication she did not require.

Britney was made to pay a steep price for her mental health struggles. She was not only stripped of her professional, financial and bodily autonomy; she was also subjected to invasive questions, cruel jokes, nonconsensual photos and paparazzi harassment. In short, she was reduced to a husk of a human, a mere public image who was the media’s to ridicule without remorse. 

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Britney’s ongoing battle with inconsiderate, incompetent and ignorant mental health professionals, doctors and even familial relations is made infinitely more unsettling when we consider that every detail of Britney’s case happened in the public eye and that most cases like hers don’t have access to even the few privileges that come with being popular. Most cases go under the radar, festering behind the veil of obscurity.

However, the media was vital in worsening the already harrowing situation Spears was in. The media disregarded her mental health struggles used it to further their petty, egocentric causes; all the while maintaining their hypocritical position on the importance of mental health.

Even with all her financial and social privileges, Britney felt unsafe and was reluctant to make her testimony that had the potential of setting her free. The idea of being shoved into the public eye only to be mocked and stereotyped haunted her. Seeing as it was World Mental Health Day a few days ago; we must endeavour to harness an environment that breeds compassion, understanding and kindness for those brave enough to be transparent about their experiences regarding mental health. This will enable the de-stigmatization and complete normalization of mental health and its struggles and welfare.

About the writer: Bhargavi Barnabas is a Content writer, English literature student, researches and writes on feminism, mental health, and LGBTQIA+ issues, she is also a Bouncbk user.

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