Amanda Bynes’ saga shows public insensitivity to mental illness

She gave us endless laughs with her quirky skits on The Amanda Show. She melted our hearts as the lovable Daphne Reynolds in the ultimate chick flick, What a Girl Wants. Her small screen and big screen performances provided memorable quotes such as, “Bring out the dancing lobsters!”

But as Newton’s law of gravity asserts, what goes up must come down. And like many child stars, Amanda Bynes’ stardom has definitely come tumbling down. This should inspire a frank discussion about mental illness rather than the humorous commentary that we’ve seen.

Today, this Nickelodeon star is nearly unrecognizable when compared to the sweet-faced girl that she once was: Her ever-changing, ill-fitting wigs, mismatching outfits and inappropriate outbursts have caused quite the stir.

Initially, she began tweeting nearly-naked self-portraits with bizarre captions and then took it as far as calling fellow celebrities such as Drake, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna “ugly.” Her record with the law enforcement isn’t too great either: Police have arrested Bynes for charges ranging from marijuana possession to a DUI. This is all in stark contrast to the gorgeous teenager who once graced the covers of Seventeen magazine and Vanity Fair, lauded for her down-to-earth personality.

Though other stars, such as Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen, have faced similar charges and public breakdowns, Bynes is different from the others — she has a mental illness. For this reason, we must sympathize instead of criticize.

Most recently, after allegedly setting fire to a neighbor’s driveway, she was admitted into a psychiatric ward on an involuntary hold. The Daily Mail reports that Bynes is currently being treated for schizophrenia. But no matter what disorder plagues her, society must acknowledge that Amanda Bynes has an illness. And mental illnesses are no laughing matter. It is disheartening to see the public and the media trivialize her story instead of reaching out to support her. The public’s lack of respect and compassion for Bynes is an indicator of a larger problem that sweeps America: ignorance of mental health issues.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence, who portrayed a young woman who befriended a man affected by bipolar disorder in the film Silver Linings Playbook, shed light on this issue following her Oscar win: “It’s just so bizarre how in this world if you have asthma, you take asthma medicine. If you have diabetes, you take diabetes medicine. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, it’s such a stigma behind it,” she told Parade.

Hard facts reinforce Lawrence’s sentiments. A recent survey suggested that “negative public attitudes toward people who have poor mental health could take a generation to shift.”

Until the public is further educated about such illnesses, hateful comments will persist.

For example, one Twitter user stated, “When I heard about what happened at Venice Beach … I thought Amanda Bynes escaped from a mental hospital and did it.” Others have used her name and negative descriptors interchangeably: “Some days I feel like Beyonce, and other days I’m Amanda Bynes. Idk just depends.”

At first glance, these comments appear harmless. But when they’re coupled with tabloid stories assaulting her identity, it’s evident that society has contributed to her downward spiral.

Fellow Nickelodeon star Nick Cannon chimed in on this problem when he penned an open letter to Bynes in his blog.

“So I ask people who are quick to judge, tweet, report or comment to ask yourself; what if that person was my sister? My brother? My mother? Or me? What then would I say? In the words of the great poet and artist Bill Withers, ‘Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.’”

We must keep in mind that there are millions of Amandas in this world — that is, there are millions of people struggling with mental illnesses such as OCD, anxiety and depression. These are people who are often shunned by society because the media portrays them as knife-wielding murderers — as the crazy people. But beneath the complicated diagnoses, those afflicted by mental illnesses are people first and foremost — people who need kindness and compassion so that they can heal in due time.

So whether a person is a celebrity or just a peer, it’s the fact that he or she is a person that matters the most. No matter who he or she is or where he or she comes from, no matter his or her class or race, each individual deserves understanding instead of judgment — especially when that person has a serious disorder. When we all remember this on a daily basis, hate will slowly vanish.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have our beloved Amanda back.