The Article Heard Round the World: Amanda Bynes and Mental Illness

amanda bynes mental illness

Last week, a young writer name Sam Dylan Finch shed a very human perspective on Amanda Bynes and her ongoing struggles with mental illness.

The essay was, simply put, breathtaking. Since being published, it’s gone very viral. Sam explores how we as a culture view, and react to, celebrities with mental illness. Perhaps the best point made is the discrepancy between how we reacted to the death of Robin Williams and how we’re currently treating Amanda Bynes.

Laughter & Mental Illness: A Not So Subtle Hint to Treat Amanda Bynes with Compassion

We treat those with mental illness, and addiction, very differently when they’re alive and when they’re dead. For that matter, we treat average women suffering from mental illness, or addiction, very different from a suffering celebrity.

Why is this? Why do we place celebrities on a pedestal, while also tearing them down? Why do we view Amanda Bynes as the punch line of a joke and Robin Williams as a tragic reminder of our humanity? Why do we treat celebrity mental illness as entertainment instead of a deadly sickness?

Oh dear readers, I wish I knew! I don’t have an easy answer. I don’t think there is an easy answer. I think we’re human and messy and contradictory. I think we like to idolize celebrities and believe fame is possible, only to tear them down and make ourselves feel better.

For that matter, I think we treat celebrity mental illness differently than “normal” mental illness because celebrities seem untouchable. None of us really know what Amanda Bynes is going through. Hell, we don’t even know if she is mentally ill. While it’s clear something serious and tragic is happening in her life, she has yet to confirm any diagnosis.

So, assuming Amanda does suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar, or any form of mental illness, we still don’t understand her struggle (even those of us who have these same mental illnesses!). Maybe we treat celebrity mental illness differently because, surprise, it is different.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should mock Amanda Bynes. I hate that she’s the butt of jokes. I hate that I’ve made these jokes. I hate that watching her Twitter is akin to watching TV for some people. Still, her experience with mental illness is very different than mine. Her experience with mental illness is very different than yours. Her experience with mental illness is just that, her experience.

Are We Bad People for Laughing? A Critical Look at Our Reactions to Mental Illness & Death

Sam’s essay made me question my reaction to Amanda Bynes and her public unraveling. It also made me question my reaction to the death of Robin Williams.

When Robin Williams took his life, as a direct result of mental illness, I mourned. I wasn’t alone. Our entire nation mourned. We celebrated too. We celebrated the life, career, and personality of a wonderful man. We celebrated the legacy of a one-of-a-kind comedian and social critic.

Why is it that in death, be it from mental illness or addiction, we mourn the sufferer? Why is it that we wait until they’re gone to celebrate their achievements? Why don’t we try to help while they’re alive?

Again, I wish I knew! I can’t come up with a single reason I haven’t tried to help Amanda Bynes (in whatever small and tiny way I can). I can’t come up with a single reason I don’t have the same compassion for her that I have for a woman who walks into a meeting.

Why is that? Why do we laugh rather than help? Why do we mourn afterwards, instead of offering help during?

Let’s start the conversation with those questions. If we keep asking ourselves why, sooner or later we’re going to have to answer. If we keep the fact that Amanda Bynes is sick, rather than simply crazy, at the forefront of our minds, maybe we’ll show her the same compassion we show each other.

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