Amanda Bynes Coverage Perpetuates Mental Illness Stigmas In The Media

By: Cassie Myers

Embed from Getty ImagesMental illness is not something that the media handles well. When it is discovered that someone who has committed a crime has a mental illness, it is used as an end-all be-all explanation for what they did. This type of reporting affects the way people look and talk about those with mental illnesses and surveys show that 61% of Americans believe that those who are diagnosed with schizophrenia are violent.

This kind of reporting is clearly demonstrated by the articles that have been written about Amanda Bynes in the last year. Today she is making headlines again. TMZ has released a piece of audio where the actress can can be heard threatening her parents. The Inquisitr has labeled it as “another one of her infamous rants” with the audio clip posted prominently at the top of the article.

What most people are failing to talk about is that Bynes is a 28-year-old who is struggling with a real problem. Instead articles such as “15 Craziest Amanda Bynes Moments: A Timeline and Analysis,” “Amanda Bynes-High, Bizzare and Off To NYC” and “Amanda Bynes Released, Free to Act Crazy” are constantly posted all over the web.

This isn’t just irresponsible, it’s hypocritical. When beloved comedian Robin Williams committed suicide this past summer there was an outpouring of love from the media and a commitment to deal with the stigma that surrounds mental illness. So why is it that three months after William’s death instead of educating people on mental illness we are making Amanda Bynes the punchline of a joke?

Americans are obsessed with watching celebrity “meltdowns” and while these stories are easy click bait and a quick way to spike readership, it’s important to consider the ways that those harmful descriptors enforce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Associating mental illness with “craziness” and “violence” is lazy reporting and an unfair depiction of an estimated 9.6 million U.S. American adults.

What do you think of the media’s reporting on Amanda Bynes and mental illness? What is the best way to handle stories that deal with mental illness?

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18 responses to “Amanda Bynes Coverage Perpetuates Mental Illness Stigmas In The Media

  1. I love this post because it covers a lot of issues I have been noticing these past few weeks. Everybody jokes about Amanda Bynes and how crazy she is, laughing and what not. But what people do not realize is that Bynes has a disease, and it is not just a joke. I think people need to realize that. When articles are written about Bynes, the funny undertones regarding her actions needs to go away, and a more serious tone needs to come through. The media cannot act sympathetic about mental illness when something bad happens from it, like Robin Williams’s death, and then joke around weeks later.

    • I completely agree that the humorous undertones in articles about her needs to disappear. Even sites that mention mental illness are still clearly trying to poke fun at her. There can’t be a double standard when it comes to reporting mental illness.

  2. I agree that there needs to be more sensitivity and attention focused on mental illnesses themselves, rather than making fun of the actions a person may or may not be doing. The bigger problem is that Americans don’t devote enough time, money or other resources to those with mental health disabilities, and it’s a huge problem. This can, in part, be helped with accurate reporting of the facts and symptoms of mental health illnesses from the media, and education on how to help or treat these cases.

    • You’re right, mental illness is not just an issue in the media. As a country we don’t do enough for people who have mental illnesses. When we finally get around to talking about them we act as if they are crazy or dangerous rather than people dealing with a disease.

  3. I think that this is such an interesting and relevant topic. Clearly modern day media is too focused on white girl syndrome, and even worse the sensationalism of celebrities. I think that sensitive topics such as mental illness have a space in news, and informing readers should be the main focus. There is a time and place for humorous writing; however, mental illness is not one of them.

    • I agree. I love humorous writing, but when it comes to mental illness there shouldn’t be room for jokes. The media could do so much if they would educate viewers/readers on mental illness rather than joke about it or classify it as an explanation for people’s actions.

  4. I have also noticed this about Bynes in the media. She recently got her twitter account up and going again and I feel like some of her tweets will make Buzzfeed calling her “crazy” and what not. I do not think it is right to spotlight someone with a disease, especially someone who was once very successful. It is just highlighting parts of their life that don’t need to be highlighted. That is the thing about being a celebrity, you will always be in the spotlight and people thrive off of your mistakes.

    • Bynes isn’t the first celebrity to go through this and unfortunately she won’t be the last. We have a weird obsession with covering celebrity’s “meltdowns.” I think you’re right that in this case, there’s no need to constantly be highlighting the actions of someone who is clearly going through some sort of struggle.

  5. I’m glad you wrote about this, because I’ve also been noticing kind of the barrage of attacks on Amanda while she’s suffering. I know the media is constantly hungry for entertaining and humorous stories about the downfall of celebrities, but highlighting Amanda Bynes’ mental illness as something to be criticized is just harmful to how we as a population perceive mental illnesses. I believe the media needs to either stop portraying Bynes as “crazy” and start portraying her as someone who is need of compassion and understanding or simply stop covering her actions entirely.

    • I love what you said about needing to portray her “as someone who is [in] need of compassion and understanding.” There’s no good reporting in highlighting and making fun of mental illness. Compassion and educated reporting on mental illness will do much more to further the way those with mental illnesses are perceived.

  6. Your comparison of the media’s handling of Amanda Bynes’ illness and Robin Williams’ is powerful–it’s something I hadn’t thought about. In addition to covering celebrities, the media also struggles to portray the effects of mental illness in stories about crimes committed by people who are mentally ill. I agree with your argument that US readers have a very skewed perception of mental illness, likely as a result of poor media representation.

    • I could’ve written an entirely different post on the perception of mental illness and crimes in the US. When a mass murder happens, usually the first thing people will look at is a history of mental illness. If one is diagnosed it becomes the explanation for the person’s actions, which isn’t always fair. This portrayal leads people to think anyone with a mental illness is dangerous or violent, but so many people live with mental illness and I don’t think Americans genuinely understand what that means.

  7. This is something that I’ve been bothered by as well. People are always looking down on celebrities if they check into rehab and go on about their “problems” when they are doing what they need to get help. The media takes a toll on these celebrities, especially when they have something personal that they need to deal with. Stories like “Amanda Bynes-High, Bizarre and Off to NYC” is almost mocking what she’s going through, and like you said, she’s one of millions of people in the U.S. who is going through this struggle. So, instead of constantly covering their troubles, we should let them figure out what they need without jokes from the media.

    • I agree with everything you said. I hadn’t thought about how we look down on celebrities when they check into rehab, but it’s true. The sad part is that we are looking down on people who are trying to get help and improve themselves. As journalists, we need to be better about reporting on things like this.

  8. I agree with the people above. The public can be laughing and joking but the truth is that Bynes has a disease and she needs to get help. The media needs to know where to draw the line of inappropriate and covering current news. As a fan of E! News and shows like that, I am curious about celebrities and their lives but there comes a point where the media is just being ridiculous. When a person has a serious mental illness they need to stop and think before they publish.

    • Celebrity news is hugely popular, but you’re right that there needs to be a point where we draw the line. I sometimes wonder when I see certain articles and headlines if they really considered what it is they they were about to publish and the harmful effects it could have.

  9. “Minimizing Harm” – one of journalism’s core ethics. While she is a public figure, she does not “open herself up” to ridicule from the media. The media is not a tool to publically attack and mock people, cloaking it with the fact that it’s spreading awareness. I’m really glad you wrote about this because it definately makes me sad AND angry to see such disrespect portrayed by our journalism peers.

  10. I love that you talked about “minimizing harm.” There are certain publications that have taken it upon themselves to openly mock celebrities and public figures. While it’s okay to criticize, you’re right that the “media is not a tool to publicly attack and mock people.”

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