On Amanda Bynes: Cancer Isn’t Funny and Neither is Mental Illness

This morning, an email subject line from the New York Daily News caught my eye: “Amanda Bynes caught acting strange again.” The story outlines in great–some would say gleeful–detail  the actress’ recent shopping trip where she took off her blouse, made inappropriate comments and clearly is unwell.

Reporter Rich Shapiro dutifully concludes the article with this note:  “The ‘Hairspray’ actress was locked in a psychiatric hospital last year, after she was accused of tossing a bong out the window of a Manhattan highrise and later sparking a fire in a stranger’s driveway.”

The New York Daily News is a tabloid–and therefore has an irreverent and over-the-top tone that is much different than the staid tones of the New York Times and other more conservative outlets. Nonetheless, I am shocked that the newspaper considers mental illness fair game for gossip–no different than George Clooney getting married or Gweneth Paltrow getting ‘uncoupled’ from her rock star husband.

Despite Bynes’ obviously incapacitated mental state, Shapiro notes she retains her fashion sense, attempting to shoplift some really pricey items. The only thing that could have made this article more insensitive is if Shapiro described Bynes as Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

I am in an expert in neither Amanda Bynes’ health nor mental illness. Its clear to me, however, that she is incompetent and needs more or better help than that which she is currently getting.  It angers me that some people think mental illness is funny.

We would never to do this someone with a different illness–we’ve recently discussed Joan Lunden’s People magazine cover. Joan elected to appear bald on that cover–a decision that was warmly received and even applauded. Suppose the paparazzi had caught Joan unawares without her wig and published the pictures. What if the New York Daily News had published them and said things such as “Hey Mrs. Clean, where’s the Mister?” or “Joan Lunden caught looking strange with her completely shaved head.” The outcry would be immediate and damning.

The message here is clear: We are nice to celebrity cancer patients because they are just like us and get cancer and deserve our sympathy. We ridicule celebrities who are mentally ill because it’s fun to make fun of other people’s misfortunes. We of course never discuss the crazy aunt in our family or the weird cousin because that reflects poorly on us and besides everyone knows it’s not cool to talk about mental illness.

I remain astonished at the willingness of celebrities to share their own personal health woes as paid endorsers for pharmaceutical companies. I know that Sally Field has weak bones, Terry Bradshaw had  shingles, that John Elway has acid reflux,  and many, many, professional athletes suffer from erectile dysfunction. I am sure there must be celebrities who talk about their mental health, but I can’t think of them.  A Google search reveals celebrities have talked about their depression. Catherine Zeta-Jones freely discussed her bipolar disorder with People and other publications in 2010. But in 2012, she seemed weary and a bit wary:

“You know what, I’m sick of talking about it because I never wanted to be the poster child for this,” Zeta-Jones told “Good Morning America.” “I never wanted this to come out publicly. It came out. And so I dealt with it in the best way I could and that was just say, ‘Look, hey, I’m bipolar.’”

“Everyone has things going on and we deal with them the best we can,” she continued. “We can’t jump from the rooftops shouting, you know, about, ‘I have this, look at me, victim.’ No. We all have issues in life and I’m really happy that I have great friends, great support, and that’s all I can do.”

If you have cancer, inevitably at some point people will say such things as “You are so brave” or “You are an inspiration.” Such declarations make me uncomfortable. Anyone who thinks I am brave has never seen me get out the vacuum to deal with the tiniest of spiders. I honestly can’t think of anything I have done that would qualify me as “inspirational.”

I am a woman with cancer. Before I had cancer I was a cynical, sarcastic and often grouchy woman. Cancer has not and cannot change that. I was not a noble person before and I am not one now.

Before I had cancer, I was a human being deserving of compassion and consideration. That would be still be true regardless of my illness: If I had lung cancer rather than breast cancer or if I had an unquiet mind rather than cellular replication run amuck.

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4 thoughts on “On Amanda Bynes: Cancer Isn’t Funny and Neither is Mental Illness

  1. Last 2 paragraphs are me, exactly. After all, I call myself cancer curmudgeon, and, I am.

  2. No type of illness is funny.. All should be taken seriously

  3. Laurie says:

    I’m late to the party but I loved this. It really spoke to me, as do all your posts.

  4. […] Cancer isn’t funny and neither is mental illness (ihatebreastcancer.wordpress.com) […]

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