Amanda Bynes is the latest in a string of celebrities—most notably Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen—who have publicly denied the obvious: Once you are arrested for using alcohol or drugs and breaking the law, then observed acting erratically, you have a problem with substance abuse (or dependence) and may also be suffering with a mood disorder (like bipolar disorder) and/or a personality disorder (like narcissistic personality disorder).
Bynes was arrested in April for driving under the influence and two counts of hit-and-run. Since then, she has been spotted acting bizarrely—like getting half-naked in a gym and using a mirror in the middle of the place to put on her makeup for several minutes. Despite this behavior, Bynes told People Magazine Wednesday she is "doing amazing."
This triple threat of substance abuse, mood instability and personality pathology, which I am now dubbing “sick celebrity syndrome,”seems to be the destiny of more than one Hollywood child whose parents thought it would be cool and profitable to pimp them out to agents and producers to work in modeling, television and film at a young age. Lohan began her modeling and acting careers at age 3. Sheen began his acting career at age 9. Bynes began hers at age 7.
One notable feature of "sick celebrity syndrome"—which is powered mostly by personality problems, rather than just problems with addiction or mood—is showing utter contempt for authority. Sheen is the most afflicted, of course. He advised Americans (including the many thousands or millions of kids who were likely watching) that he had the right to use cocaine, despite destroying hotel rooms and other illegal acts, and would suffer no ill effects because he had “tiger blood.”
Lohan arrived in court in dress-to-kill fashion garb, turned the proceedings into a photo shoot and turned her public service into a self-serving joke. And Bynes continued to drive after her arrest, despite not having a license, until her car was impounded.
Inside the mind of Bynes likely are psychological gears that began turning around the age of 7, when her California dentist dad and dental assistant mom decided she could start stroking their egos (and maybe hers) and padding the family bank account by acting. In my opinion, this commandeering of a child and her talents to satisfy the emotional needs and unrealized dreams of her parents is an ingredient present in each and every child star’s life.
And the end-results are predictable: deep feelings of having been unloved, unlovable or manipulated, reliance on fame and false courage as buffers against low-self esteem, wildly fluctuating moods not anchored by any true identity and feelings of rage directed at oneself and one’s victims (which would actually better be directed at those who denied them their childhoods—for example, their parents).
Another element of “sick celebrity syndrome” may be telling this psychiatrist that he is all wrong. Danny Bonaduce (aka Danny Partridge), who started acting at the age of 10 and spiraled down to drug abuse and homelessness, argued publicly that I was absurd to say child actors are being harmed by their parents. Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono, who was toted out on the Sonny and Cher show to be a cute little girl for fame and profit, and who descended into depression, has claimed I have no real clinical expertise.
And other celebrities have railed against me in my psychiatric office, until they’ve stopped yelling at me long enough to start a real search for the roots of their low self-esteem and a real search for the folks who actually helped cause their problems—searches that have led them back to their childhood homes.
Stay tuned for more trouble inside the mind of Amanda Bynes, until she takes the journey toward insight, too. There’s no substitute for it. And it always, always is a healing one. Because the truth, in every life, famous or not, always wins.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.