How Britney Spears Helped Me Through My Mental Health Struggles

"It horrified me that a person whose art had helped me during dark times was not offered the grace and compassion she needed during her own."
Britney Spears pictured in 2016
Britney Spears pictured in 2016
C Flanigan via Getty Images

In February 2007, pop singer Britney Spears was pushed to the brink of her sanity by the media. So she shaved her head in a hair salon in Los Angeles for the world to see.

I was only nine years old, but I remember in vivid detail how the incident made her the ultimate punch line – even in an elementary schoolyard. Sure, we were children who had no idea how to make sense of such a pop culture circus. But we took our cues from the way the world broadcast it to us: Britney was a joke, an outcast, a burnout, an embarrassment — not a misguided young woman going through an intense mental health crisis. But that didn’t stop the entire world from critiquing her every move.

Even before her highly publicised breakdown, I didn’t concern myself too much with Britney because the adults around me signaled her music wasn’t appropriate for me.

The way people spoke about Britney then made me feel so uncomfortable — and not just because she was a punch line. It was as if her art, and therefore her personhood, didn’t matter because she made frivolous dance-pop and not “real music”. Listening to that kind of silly pop music was definitely not praised for boys. And frankly, little has changed in the heteronormative public perception of Britney in the years since.

I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable as a child when Pink sang the words, “And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”. I didn’t quite know what that meant yet — or that I was gay — but I was good at absorbing grown-ups’ emotions and reactions to pop culture. So when my mum gave me Britney’s Circus album on CD the next Christmas, it felt like I had reached a new milestone in life, one that allowed me to actually consume the things that fascinated me regardless of my age. It was like someone was silently telling me I was allowed to be who I wanted to be, at least behind closed doors.

Britney Spears on her Circus tour in 2009
Britney Spears on her Circus tour in 2009
Exclusive Images-Jeremy Cowart via Getty Images

It was impossible for my burgeoning 11-year-old gay heart to know that Britney was still not OK when she made Circus and its line of successors. But when I started going through my own mental health struggles during my early adulthood, she became an unlikely friend. It started with listening and relistening to her new album from that year, 2016’s Glory. The carefree pop songs where Britney sounded genuinely happy helped mimic that emotion in me.

Britney became my guiding light during a time of unstable mental health. It was more serious offerings like Just Luv Me that made me realise I needed to start holding love and patience for myself. Then I added her whole discography into my music library. I turned to Britney for comfort every time I felt like an anxious mess who didn’t have control over anything. The singer and her music have always been queer-coded for those who have needed it most, which makes Britney’s status as a gay icon practically self-explanatory.

During my second year of college, Britney was the only person who, to paraphrase her lyrics to Alien, made me feel less alone. Life only made some semblance of sense when I was listening to her music. The year I turned 19 was when I started keeping my sexuality less of a secret, often disillusioned at the reactions of anyone around me when I dared to step outside my assigned gender role.

But Britney always got it. As she put it in the interlude to her My Prerogative cover: “People can take everything away from you, but they can never take away your truth. But the question is, can you handle mine?”

I even wrote her life into a poem for a creative writing workshop. The real world and its gendered traditions were scary and lonely, but I knew Britney could handle my truth. And I could handle hers, at least the one that was being shared with us back then.

Britney performing on her Piece Of Me summer tour in 2018
Britney performing on her Piece Of Me summer tour in 2018
Kevin Mazur/BCU18 via Getty Images

I revisited the media coverage surrounding her earlier years, examining and pinpointing moments where she was denied the help and rest she so clearly needed. To watch her 2006 appearance on Dateline with 2024 eyes is particularly harrowing: When Matt Lauer asks if she ever wishes the media would just leave her alone, she chokes back tears before replying: “Yeah.” (You’ve probably seen and used the GIF without a second thought.)

To reexamine the timeline of Britney’s first decade of stardom is to chart a course of our own cultural failings, teaching impressionable young minds that mental health, especially when it comes to women, is something to demean and laugh at. It horrified me that a person whose art had helped me during dark times was not offered the grace and compassion she needed during her own. It seemed fitting that Britney named that album Circus in 2008 because she had been treated as nothing more than a zoo animal.

Few grown adults were privy to the pain the singer was going through on a daily basis under a conservatorship controlled by her father, an arrangement we now know that Britney stayed in for so long to maintain access to her own children. It wasn’t until 2019, over a decade after the intense media scrutiny that led to a very public meltdown, that the world started getting clues about the unhealthy nature of Britney’s life and career.

But by the time she was freed from her conservatorship in 2021, only true die-hard fans remained by her side. The rest of the culture, those who hadn’t paid much attention to Spears since the days of singing …Baby One More Time and Oops! I Did It Again into karaoke machines, went back to judging her sometimes-peculiar ramblings on Instagram, wondering if it would have been better for everyone if the singer had remained in the conservatorship.

Once Britney published her memoir, The Woman In Me, last autumn, it brought me a great deal of peace – mostly because the high praise for the book felt like everyone with a heart and a mind was finally hearing what I always heard: a once-beloved woman in trouble, struggling with her mental well-being, trying to find a way back to herself in the public eye amid a land mine of restraints.

Now that she was finally able to speak her truth on her own terms, I wanted nothing less for her. Selfishly, it allowed me to validate my own mental health struggles and to look back with much kinder eyes on the 19-year-old baby gay who didn’t know how to take the next steps in his journey. Ultimately so much of the world sees Brintey as a piece of nostalgia, as a cautionary tale from a previous era of tabloid journalism that was ruthless to young women. You can scroll through any of your streaming services and find an unauthorised documentary about her. But we still haven’t managed to give Britney the collective apology she deserves from us.

So, I’ll be the one to get the ball rolling. I’m sorry, Britney, for all the people we tried to make you be when you were just trying to be yourself. I’m sorry that you still had to be the centre of attention even when you were up against the wall. I’m sorry that you had to be overprotected when you were never protected enough. I’m sorry you still had to smile when everything was going so wrong.

But mostly, I’m thankful for how your music helped me navigate my own mental health issues all while you dealt with your own.

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on

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