• Veronique Medrano

What Would Britney Do? Mental Health Stigma in the Entertainment Industry

Updated: Apr 1, 2019



In 2007 the world was caught off-guard by the meltdown of Britney Spears. Photos surfaced of her fighting paparazzi with a beach umbrella and gleefully trimming her signature long tresses and leaving the hair salon, bald. At the time, the world rained down their judgement on her for losing it. Now we make funny, but hauntingly relatable memes about the entire moment.

As I scrolled through my newsfeed, and saw another relatable “Britney Meme”, it dawned on me how important that meltdown was to our current dilemma: Artists & Mental Health. Even though it took some time, that moment has changed how we communicate about mental health. With the recent prevalence of artists succumbing to hard drugs, suicide, and public meltdowns; its apparently clear...we can no longer stay silent. These personal demons lying underneath the surface of the art we enjoy demand payment and the bill has come due.

“Can Music Make You Sick?”

I spoke with indie artists online about mental health and was immediately met with the question, “What does depression have to do with art?” This got me to thinking about the role mental health has to play in music. As I began to research the subject, I came upon Help Musicians UK, the United Kingdom's leading independent music charity, who strove to answer that question with their recent mental health study: “Can Music Make You Sick?” This two part series, which began sharing its data to the public in 2016, had over 2,200 musician’s participating in the study. Most of the musicians were between the ages of 18-35, and reasonably split down the middle in regards to gender (55.2% male, 43.9% female). The findings laid out the hidden mental health struggles in the industry, along with the distinct pressures that exist for all those that work in it. The data also suggested that musicians may be up to three times more likely to suffer from mental illness compared to the general public.

The highlights of the study are as follows:

“Can Music Make You Sick?” Part 1:

  • 71 % of musicians believed they had suffered from panic attacks and/or high levels of anxiety

  • 69% percent reported they had suffered from depression

  • 57% of those who reported struggling with mental health did not receive treatment.

“Can Music Make You Sick?” Part 2:

The psychological impact of not meeting society’s idea of success in the music industry could lead to potential triggers for: anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. These were highly likely to stack up over time. The common stressors were:

  • not meeting record deal expectations

  • the “always-on” cycles of validation and criticism on social media

  • working several freelance creative jobs just to make ends meet

  • being unable to separate oneself from one’s work

"Social Media Self Harm"

An artist doesn’t need the paparazzi to catalogue their every move,the way Britney Spears did in 2007, because artists do it to themselves. Social medias like: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat,and YouTube, just to name a few; have conditioned artists to share so much of their lives. This rarely makes them share the not so glamorous parts of what they do, but instead puts pressure on them to be “picture-perfect”.

As more and more famous artists speak out against this self-harming mind-set, it is important to not just look at these big name acts and “throw a prayer their way”. It is time for us to look at how it impacts the regional grassroots artists that we watch and support. While the art may be seen as entertainment, these pieces that cause a emotional reaction can come from a deep rooted emotional space in the artists own mind. The act of creating art is not always therapy, especially when it is a means of making money.

"LATINO/CHICANO Struggle with Mental Health"

So, how does this relate to Latinos/Chicanos in the arts? Although the rates of mental illness among Latinos and Anglos are similar, Anglos are more likely to receive mental-health treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness only 20% of Latinos/Chicanos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor, and only 10% contact a mental health specialist. Second, Latinos/Chicanos have a difficult time finding someone who is qualified that understands the cultural nuances and colloquial language that shape how we see and interact with the world around us. This makes finding mental health professionals, in the current shortage, even more daunting. Our culture prides itself in self-reliance and sees mental illness as a weakness that must be smited with prayers or with one's own hands.

**(colloquial: informal/conversational speech or language particular to a region or group of people)**


(Above: No Tenga Pena: SIMS Latino Outreach)

All of this together poses a problem for Latinos/Chicanos. Finding qualified and understanding health professionals who are aware of all the nuances of how they see the world is so important because it provides a safe space to dispel the stigma.

**(stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.)**

So where do we go from here, how do we make leaps forward in protecting and nurturing a healthier mindset in our artists? Well, the answer isn’t a simple list of “DIY Steps To a Better Mental Health.”

It takes time, research, and trial and error.

Now if you're reading this and you or someone you know is looking for services that are FREE or LOW-COST within your communities. The following is a list that can be searched by wherever you live in the United States:

#health #mentalhealth #latinomentalhealth #canmusicmakeyousick #simslatino #anxietyanddepression #britneyspears

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