Oops, we’ve done it again. We’ve shown a chronic lack of compassion and consideration for someone with mental health issues. In this case, it’s Britney Spears, who has been under her father’s conservatorship since 2008 following a very public mental health breakdown that saw her hit a photographer’s car with an umbrella and shave her head.
As a result of the conservatorship, she hasn’t been able to spend her own money, make any decisions about her career including whether to make music or to retire, have any say over her personal life and she can’t hire a lawyer. In fact, she can’t even post on social media or go outside the house without permission from her father.
And for 12 years, the world has assumed that this treatment was ok, and that it was an appropriate solution to Britney’s mental health issues.
Until recently, that is, when the pop singer posted a bizarre video of herself on TikTok. The video was captioned “HOLY HOLY CRAP!!! My florist surprised me today by making the flower arrangement all different colours… just had to SHARE!!!!”, with Britney holding a bunch of flowers in the first shot. However, for the next 43 seconds, Britney walks on and off camera, pausing to pose and smile in an eerie and confusing display. While many commented to show their amusement, TikTok user Mars Monroe (@moonwalkmars) had a different response.
In Mars’ video, which now has over nine million views, Mars comments “to everyone who is making fun of her in the comments section, here’s a few things you should know”. He goes on to claim that Britney is given an excessive amount of anti-psychotic medication to make her seem mentally incoherent and that she is being exploited by her handlers, posting the hashtag #FREEBRITNEY underneath.
TikTok users soon flagged a comment from @bluesholderpads under Britney’s previous post, which said “If you need help wear yellow in your next video”. In Britney’s most recent video, she’s seen wearing a bright yellow top.
Initially, many were quick to dismiss the claims as a conspiracy theory, but #FreeBritney has a number of high profile supporters including artists Missy Elliot, Tinashe and, most tellingly, Britney’s ex-husband and childhood friend Jason Alexander, who joined protesters outside the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles where Britney’s hearing was being held yesterday. Plus, since Mars’ post two months ago, over 100,000 people have signed a petition lobbying for the end of the conservatorship.
But whether or not the allegations are true, Britney’s circumstances should give us all pause for thought. Conservatorship is usually reserved for people who are who are psychotic, suicidal, incapacitated or have severe dementia. While no one can comment on Britney’s medical condition or diagnosis, there’s no denying that she has continued to work tirelessly for the entirety of her conservatorship. She released an album, went on a world tour, and held a four-year Las Vegas residency to name a few of her achievements – not exactly what you might expect from someone deemed to be incapacitated.
Rather than notice this incongruity and wonder about Britney’s welfare, we watched sadistically from the sidelines for years. If #FreeBritney achieves nothing else, let it open our eyes to our compliance in the way people with mental health problems – and especially women who are deemed hysterical – are treated and recognise that they are not beyond our help nor our compassion.