By Jessica Kennedy, Chief of Staff at Mental Health America
Britney Spears’ case returns to court today and supporters of the #FreeBritney movement will rally in D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial to pledge their support for her and her fight against conservatorship.
Britney Spears has asked courts to end a conservatorship that has prevented the singer-songwriter from managing her own finances, her own business, and her own life.
Her public mental health struggles in the 2000s, her subsequent treatment, and the assignment of her father as conservator have all been well-documented in the press. Social media fans, petition creators, and others launched the #FreeBritney movement to raise awareness about Britney’s conservatorship.
The movement exploded earlier this year when a heartbreaking Hulu documentary from the New York Times Presents, Framing Britney Spears, laid everything out on the table.
But #FreeBritney is also about something more than legal efforts to free someone from a conservatorship. It’s about a societal stigma -- our fundamental inability to believe that people with mental health challenges are intelligent, capable people who can make good decisions.
It’s a stigma faced by people like Britney--people like me.
I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t pretend to know the right legal arguments for either side. But Britney’s story, and her journey, are so sadly similar to what I’ve experienced, and many people with mental health and substance use conditions experience.
After a crisis experience, we may find ourselves in rehab programs, partial hospitalization programs, or inpatient facilities. A lot of the time, that’s because there weren’t enough resources to get us help before the crisis stage.
The thing is, as Britney has experienced, once you’re part of this system, it can be hard to get out. People just stop treating you as someone who is able to make their own decisions.
Do you want to check out of the facility? You have to wait until you’re cleared by someone else, even if you checked in yourself.
Do you want to stop taking a certain medication or stop seeing a certain therapist? You’re not well; those are choices for someone else to make.
Do you make bad choices with money? Even just a few times? Now we need to put you into a conservatorship or assign you a representative payee (for social security management) to help you “make good choices.” You will need to justify every single decision.
There are times when someone does need a conservator or a representative payee. Some MHA affiliates run representative payee programs. MHA’s position statement on self-determination acknowledges that while there are some times when appointing a guardian, conservator, or representative is necessary, the individual with the mental health condition MUST have a voice. It’s critically important that guardianship and conservatorship laws limit the discretion of guardians and require shared decision-making in justifying any action that affects the person with a mental health condition.
It doesn’t seem like Britney has been involved in a whole lot of shared-decision making.
Treat Britney with respect.
Read her statement.
Listen to her words.
I am. Join me.