Unless you have been under a rock, which I’m sure most of us would rather do with how horrendously bad the world continues to be, then you will have read and heard about the battle Britney Spears has been going through to end the conservatorship she has been living under since 2008. It is a conservatorship that is led by her family; specifically her father, Jamie Spears.
The exact arrangements of the conservatorship are not available for the public to see. However, at the time of writing this, what is clear is that Jamie Spears, despite a recent petition he has put forward to end the conversatorship, and Britney’s lawyer, Andrew Mallet, until 2019, has been in control of her finances, business, and personal life. This conservatorship prevents her from making any decisions in pretty much every aspect of her life. It was reported to be a type of conservatorship for people who are strongly incapacitated by their mental illness or dementia, and one that was very rare for people as young as Britney to be under. Britney was 26 years old at the time. She was the same age that I am right now.
Unfortunately, the conservatorship was put in place following Britney’s very public mental health crises in 2007, which resulted in her receiving two 5150 psychiatric holds. The equivalent to this in the UK is a sectioning under the Mental Health Act of 1983. Her mental health crises were plastered all over the media outlets, and the continuous hounding of her by the paparazzi could be argued as a factor that exacerbated her mental health. Soon after her 5150 holds, Jamie Spears requested a temporary conservatorship over Britney. At this point in Britney’s life, she appeared to require a lot of support, treatment, and the fair opportunity to recover from her mental health crises. Remember I said that.
It has been more than a decade, and Britney’s conservatorship still stands, and it has become more convoluted and messy as the years have gone on. Jamie Spears temporarily stepped away from her conservatorship, but only the personal side, and then handed this side to a care manager, which Jamie appointed. He was still very much involved in her finances. Britney has continued to work throughout this conservatorship, despite being supposedly so unwell she requires someone to make every decision for her. Yet, she has pumped out CDs and tours, even taking up a Vegas residency several years ago. Britney also has (supposedly) continued to spend inordinate amounts on living expenses, as well as over one million dollars going to conservatorship and legal fees. She is effectively paying for this conservatorship that is reported to be something she was forced to be placed under. And, Jamie, one year, took away $128,000 of her annual income. Her appointed lawyer, Andrew Mallet, resigned from being her co-conservator in 2019, leaving her father to be the sole one responsible. Her mother, Lynn Spears, was denied the opportunity to be part of the conservatorship, and she, herself, has been vocal in her concerns over it. The conservatorship has also been expanded over ten US states. It has been extended twice.
This was a temporary measure. A temporary measure that has been in place for more than a decade, and has been extended twice.
Because, the people involved in Britney’s conservatorship believed she is not capable of looking after herself and that her mental health state is not in a good place. Yet, again, she can still be able to work, and can still receive $2000 a week, even though she apparently cannot be trusted with her money. I don’t know that still seems like a lot of money for someone to receive who is deemed to be so unwell she needs, essentially, constant monitoring and restrictions on her day to day life.
And, don’t get me going on the fact she was forced to get an IUD and was never told she could get rid of it.
So, now, Britney has been informed she can petition to end the conservatorship, and, she has been able to get a new attorney, after her previous one (after Andrew Mallet but still hired by her father) resigned. Following a leaked clip of her speech to a judge where she pleaded to be released from this conservatorship shows that she has an understanding of her rights and that what is going is, in fact, abusive. She appears to know, or believe, that this conservatorship has passed its shelf-life, and now become excessive and debilitating.
Because, conservatorships are something that can be so easily used for the benefit of the people in charge. Because, it is so easy to dismiss the voices of people with mental illness, especially ones who had their crises so publicly blasted by the media, with people openly mocking her, and making her appear totally incompetent and incapacitated. Yes, she may have been incapacitated at the time, but people can recover from these crises. But, they cannot recover if they are not given the chance to do so.
There lies the issue with Britney’s conservatorship.
Conservatorships can be useful. My role at work involves me supporting some people in their financial appointeeships, which are regularly assessed by Care Inspectorates and other disciplines involved in the person’s care. It helps the individual to feel safer with their money, learn how to get to a better position with their finances, and protects them from financial abuse. However, the person should always be involved and can raise their concerns at any point, which are taken seriously and actioned upon. Some people require additional support in their personal and financial lives, because they need to focus on getting better and returning to their daily routines following experiences of poor mental health that may have resulted in sectioning or a 5150.
However, when people are held under conservatorships, the less control that is given to them, the less recovery-focused outcomes agreed, then the more negatively impactful they become in the person’s life. Conservatorships, particularly one as restrictive and enduring as Britney’s, can totally deskill the individual. If they feel like they have no way out, like how Britney believed, then they may resign to the idea that they are incapable of looking after themselves. They may develop a form of learned helplessness, as though they forget how to look after parts of their life, or are frightened to do so. Britney has had her whole life controlled, up to and including her fertility, for nearly thirteen years. She has been made to think she is hopeless and helpless. Imagine having gone from having control in your life, although questionable for Britney altogether due to her life being in the spotlight since she was a child … imagine that control, that independence you once had has been taken from you so suddenly, when you are at your most vulnerable. And then you live with hardly any independence for years, unlearning how to look after yourself, and being made to work and work without any real thanks in the form of independence or payment. You are made to believe that you don’t know how to care for yourself, that you are not trusted. So, imagine how frightened she feels right now. She appears to so desperately want to be free from this conservatorship, to be given some form of independence and capacity, yet she has been made to think she is not capable.
Additionally, the longer her conservatorship continued the more the public and the courts believed Britney was and is not in the right mind to look after herself. There are questions about the morality of the judge involved in her petitions and conservatorship detail therefore I believe that part is foggy, but the public have been regularly ingesting Britney’s mental health crises and journey, with likely thoughts of: is Britney really able to control her own life? Can she be trusted? We have seen her with a shaved head and attacking paparazzi with umbrellas. That doesn’t seem like someone able to look after herself. She burned down her home gym with candles. God, she has been in that conservatorship for so long. Surely that means she really can’t look after herself.
Again, Britney may be consuming these perceptions from the public, and the courts, that they believe she lacks capacity. Lots of people out there have the opinion she needs constant monitoring, which can be argued as a stigma held toward mental illness even if the person is in a more stable place.
Britney has lived under this conservatorship for so long. The home gym incident could be argued as an example of her trying to look after an aspect of her life and not being sure how to do it, which makes people favour the conservatorship. However, I see it as a woman that needs help to regain her independence. And, once she comes out of the conservatorship, if she does, then I think she is going to need a hell of a lot of help. I am concerned for how she will cope with more freedom, and that’s why conservatorships can be bad things, because it creates a fear around freedom and independence. It can teach the person that they will not cope with the outside world; not without the people who have controlled so much of their lives. So, Britney needs appropriate support in how to regain independence and control. Because, this would be a lot of money coming back to her. There may be people coming into her life that she does not want. There are a lot of decisions she will need to make. And, she needs the help to do it all. She needs a good and honest and recovery-focused team to get her back on her feet, and know that she can live her life.
It has been reported that Britney’s friends have been pushed away from her. Her circle has become smaller and more limited with her father and her family being her only “support system.” Britney needs a better support system, and I hope her friends and her new attorney are able to do so. She needs a chance to learn how to be free, independent, and in control.
This conservatorship, in my opinion, has gone on for far too long. Britney has not had an appropriate say in her mental health treatment, her business deals, her finances, and her personal life. Her chance at reclaiming her identity and her freedom has been affected by the stigma of mental health crises and the stigma of mental illness. Britney has been worked for years during this conservatorship, which, I cannot stress enough, was put in place because she was considered so unwell she couldn’t look after herself. If she is so unwell, then why continue to exhaust her with tours and albums? I applaud Britney for refusing to work further. She should not be forced to work and get no payments. This conservatorship has gone on for too long, and it appears to have no attempts to improve Britney’s livelihood and quality of life, but instead appears to reduce it.
Britney Spears’ Full Transcript from her petition to end the conservatorship can be found here.