Britney Spears: Bipolar?

If you turned on the television or visited the grocery store at all in the past year you probably couldn't miss the countless stories and magazine covers featuring the bizarre and destructive behaviour of pop star Britney Spears.

She appears to be the most recent example of a celebrity experiencing a mental illness and the many consequences of leaving it untreated. Specifically, Ms. Spears is exhibiting behaviour that looks like bipolar disorder.

As far as I know, she has not been formally diagnosed, but the possibility of bipolar disorder has been raised in media reports and it certainly fits with her actions of late. Erratic behaviour from shaving her head to exchanging clothes with strangers in night clubs is all fairly typical in people experiencing an episode of mania.

Other self destructive acts which could easily be the result of bipolar disorder and have been recently documented in the life of Ms. Spears include drug and alcohol use, sexual disinhibition, impulsive behaviour such as getting married and having it annulled a few days later, dangerous driving, failing to follow court orders even when the consequences could include losing custody of her children and poor judgment as a parent.

As is often the case in manic individuals, Ms. Spears doesn't seem to have any insight into her action and has gradually isolated herself from everyone she is close to and who tries to help her.

Unfortunately, the wealth enjoyed by celebrities like Ms. Spears can make matters worse. Having a lot of money at her disposal allows Ms. Spears to engage in more extreme behaviour while protecting her somewhat from the full consequences of her actions.

Another side effect of celebrity is being surrounded by groupies and others who may not have her best interest at heart. Worshippers encourage denial of illness, which only reinforces the belief that it is others who have a problem rather than herself.

Further, Ms. Spears' celebrity status means the whole world is watching and documenting her self destructive actions in a way that will be very embarrassing for her when she recovers - if she lives long enough to do so.

In spite of her resources, it appears as though Ms. Spears has not been properly diagnosed, is not seeing a psychiatrist and is obviously not getting appropriate treatment for her problems. Some media report she is taking an antidepressant and if this is true it could be making her worse since antidepressants alone are not recommended for treatment of bipolar disorder.

Although she has been admitted to hospital once on an involuntary basis, she was only kept for 24 hours, not long enough to do any good. As is often true in cases like this, her family reported being very disappointed and had hoped hospital admission would be an opportunity for diagnosis and treatment.

In view of Ms. Spears' drinking and drug use, her alienation from family, recent divorce, loss of her children and humiliating publicity, she is at high risk for suicide.

For the sake of her health and well-being, it would be best if everyone from friends to reporters and photographers began treating her as someone who is ill and needs help rather than as a juicy source of sordid entertainment for the world at large.

Ms. Spears would be well served by her handlers and loved ones to be removed from the public eye to somewhere she could receive competent psychiatric treatment and be allowed to recover in privacy.


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