We all know the story: child star or teen sensation makes it big, earns a shed load of money and garners a whole lot of press attention. Then comes the impulsive spending and the weird, brattish behaviour and the inevitable reams of public diagnosis and misdiagnoses in the press. We’ve seen this happen time and again in the lives of Michael Jackson, Britany Spears and, more recently, Justin Bieber. However, is there any causation between money, fame and mental illness? Looking into the lives of these three troubled stars, we wondered if there’s a link between mental health, celebrity and erratic spending.
After starting her career in 1993 as a Mouseketeer on 'The New Mickey Mouse Club' at age 11, Britney went on to have a monumentally successful, and widely documented, solo music career. However, in 2007 Britney shaved her hair off after suffering a very public mental health breakdown, reportedly involving alleged drug abuse leading to an overdose. After that her father, Jamie Spears, was basically granted power of attorney over her finances and career. After many years of speculation, and scores of differing unofficial diagnoses, Britney bravely opened up to the press, admitting her struggles were the result of bipolar disorder and severe mood swings. In 2013, Britney reportedly spent almost $7 Million on fast food, Christmas lights and grooming and fashion in just one year – that’s around half of her conservatorship allowance.
The boy who would later become the ‘King of Pop’ began his career in 1964 with family Band The Jackson 5 when he was just 6 years old. At the age of 9, Michael achieved worldwide fame and the adulation of millions of dedicated fans. Whether or not Michael Jackson was a sufferer of any specific mental health issue is up for intense debate - many medical professionals speculate that he suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, and some even suggest Body Dysmorphic Disorder. One thing is clear; Michael did display many of the symptoms associated with these conditions – a chaotic lifestyle, erratic behaviour and drug addiction. As well as this he was the victim of violent abuse at the hands of his father, Joseph. At the time of his death, Michael was severely in debt – despite earning over $75 million a year in royalties. Well documented extravagances include his Neverland Ranch and his infamous spending sprees, where he would routinely blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on antiques in minutes.
After being discovered at the age of 12, Justin Bieber has achieved a phenomenal level of fame, boosted by his dedicated following, the Beliebers. In 2012, Forbes named him the third most powerful celebrity – at the age of 18! –Justin’s antics regularly grab headlines the world over, and in the last couple of years alone he has been accused of reckless driving, resisting arrest, vandalism, impulsive behaviour and now, alleged mobile phone thefts. That’s certainly all very worrying, but what’s really scary is he’s reportedly spending $1 Million a month. In the past he’s spent $75,000 on a single strip club outing and an unreported sum to hire LA’s Staple centres for a private screening of Titanic. Plus, Justin paid $10,000 to abandon Mally, his pet Capuchin Monkey. In the March 2013, Mally was seized by German customs officers after Justin failed to provide the correct travel and vaccination documents. Two months later, Justin allowed his beloved pet be to become property of the German state, after being given plenty of warning. Justin incurred the charges as a result of this reckless decision. There have also been reports of him spending a significant amount of money on drugs – about $8,000 per month on cannabis. Does Money Impact on
Celebrities Mental Health?
One could argue that it is the excess of money that causes mental health specifically in celebrities. However, it is more likely mental illnesses which cause the problems. There does seem to be a link. We asked renowned Cognitive Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapist, Dr. David Lewis whether money could be the cause of mental illness in certain celebrities, he said: “excessive money can have a very destructive impact but it depends what kind of a person you are.”
He went on to explain how ‘depressed people, whether rich or poor’, can be split into two categories – those who ‘derive happiness from pleasure’ and others who crave achievement to bring happiness. In all three of our celebrities we see an amazing level of ambition and creativity; could they fall into the second category? We can also see the damage their money has caused them – manic spending sprees, strip club blow outs and fast food binges, plus many factors hinting at an inability to manage their finances. So could the root of all evil be the metal illness itself, rather than the money? One of the common signifiers of bi-polar disorders is erratic spending. According to Mind, those with Bi-polar disorders are prone to periods of excessive spending during manic phases; furthermore, many bi-polar people have difficulty managing their finances. There have, of course, been many wild assumptions regarding JB’s mental health, amongst them his rumoured bi-polar disorder. Perhaps his famous, spending sprees could be evidence to support this theory? Furthermore, this is something which all three of our once child stars have experienced. Plus, bi-polar disorder obviously affects those with less money too. But there is a link between poor finances and depression too. According to a Citizen Advice Bureau report, almost 3 in 4 people said that debt was impacting on their mental health. “Nearly three in four people with debt worries told us their financial concerns were affecting their mental health” Gillian Guy, CAB chief executive. This shows that poor finances can have a negative impact on mental health but it doesn’t show that it is the illness itself causing the issue. So, the fact that these celebrities have a lot of money only really effects how much they spend and what they spend it on - if they had less money, the chances are they’d still spend erratically. By this rationale, we can certainly conclude it isn’t the money itself causing the problem.
The Man in the Mirror
Perhaps some of this behaviour is symptomatic of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). Author and research psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler believes that child celebrities like JB have been essentially raised by ‘professional ego-boosters’. She went on to say that the entertainment industry attracts those with narcissistic tendencies and throws them out as ‘full-blown (sufferers of) narcissistic personality disorder’. So it can be said that the entertainment industry attracts those with existing mental illnesses, or those who are at a higher risk, and amplifies the problem - turning would be mini-monsters into Godzillas. Furthermore, Andy Roberts, the owner of Breathe London a company which specialises in life coaching and positive psychology says that: “Celebrities, who achieve fame and fortune at a young age, are constantly reminded of how talented they are. But as time goes by they quickly come to realise that ever increasing wealth does not bring ever increasing levels of happiness. In fact the research from Positive Psychology suggests the opposite. As they come to realise this truth they embark on an expedition of trying to regain that happiness high. This seems to manifest in ostentatious expenditure, reckless behaviour and drug taking… With adulation poured on them they also tend to become fearful of their loss of vigour, youth, fame, sex appeal and popularity. As the eyes of the world turn away from them negative emotions associated with loss can creep in." So, it could this reinforced narcissism which causes child stars to turn drugs, crime and reckless spending. Roberts goes on to expand on Drexler’s thoughts on narcissism, stating ‘not all young famous people turn out this way. However, there may be a personality type in celebrities which makes them particularly vulnerable to depression.’ This may mean that they are susceptible to mental illnesses.
We should not be so hard on the Justin Bieber's of this world. If we look back to our 19 year old selves - how would we have coped with such unbelievable adulation? When you have the opportunity to experience everything in life at 19 what is the point of the rest of your life? During the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, a recording of a message left by Michael Jackson on Murray’s phone revealed a shocking insight into the fated star’s mind, “When people leave this show, when people leave my show, I want them to say, 'I've never seen nothing like this in my life. Go. Go. I've never seen nothing like this. Go. It's amazing. He's the greatest entertainer in the world”.
This most certainly smacks of narcissism. And Britany is no stranger to narcissistic behaviour either- having publicly aired her marriage with Kevin Federline in the 2005 reality TV show Britney & Kevin: Chaotic. Plus, many experts believe it is hard to distinguish between the manic period of bi-polar disorder and narcissism. In fact Russ Federman, Ph.D. states roughly 1 in 20 bipolar suffers also have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Could narcissism be both the reason why some stars are born, but also the reason why some of them die? So, if it’s not the excess money that causes some former child stars to go off the rails, it certainly facilitates it a little.The chances are, even if they were poor, they might still be frivolous with their finances. This is could be the case with Britney, down to her bipolar disorder – which many doctors believe could be a hereditary illness. It’s only speculative to assume JB and MJ would be the same – but there is plenty of evidence to suggest they would. The one thing which links all of these stars is narcissism, which according to Drexler is most likely already apparent but heightened as a product of their being thrust in the spotlight at an early age. This trait can then manifest itself into a variety of different, damaging mental illnesses which affect certain celebrities. So could the personality type Dr. Lewis refers be a tendency towards narcissism? It looks highly likely.