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What Can We Learn From The Amanda Bynes Conservatorship?

Beloved actress Amanda Bynes, best known for her roles in classic teen comedies of the 2000s, was released from her nine-year conservatorship on March 22. When the judge ruled in favor of Bynes last week, she made the following public statement to People magazine: “Following today’s decision by the judge to terminate my conservatorship, I would like to thank my fans for their love and well wishes during this time. I would also like to thank my lawyer and my parents for their support over the last nine years.” 

It’s impossible for many millennial and Gen Z audiences to forget Bynes’ iconic roles — from her sketch comedy in Nickelodeon’s All That and The Amanda Show to the movies What A Girl Wants and Hairspray. Plus, how could we forget the wildly quotable She’s The Man (2006) that provided comedic lines like, “Does he have your number? 1-800-BEYOTCH?” and “I can do this. I am a dude! I am a hunky dude! I’m a badass hunky dude!” Following her role in 2010’s Easy A, Bynes announced via Twitter that acting was simply not making her happy anymore — and as a fan, it felt sad to see her “retire” from the screen.

In the years following Bynes’ announcement and her departure from acting, she displayed a series of dangerous and concerning behaviors, including multiple hit-and-run incidents and a DUI in 2012, illegal substance use, and attacking celebrities like Rihanna on her social media platforms. Eventually, her challenges warranted a need for intervention, prompting Bynes’ parents — Lynn Organ and Rick Bynes — to request conservatorship over their daughter (they requested conservatorship in 2013 and were granted guardianship in 2014). 

Since the start of her conservatorship, Bynes has remained largely quiet. And now that the former actress has been released, she appears to have a new life ahead of her.

Wait…what is conservatorship again?

According to the Cornell Law School’s definition, a conservatorship is “the appointment of a conservator by the court to manage a person’s affairs who is unable to handle them due to their mental capacity, age, or physical disability.” Thus, during Bynes’ seemingly troubling chapter, her parents were legally petitioning for the ability to make physical and mental health decisions on her behalf.

Recently, conservatorships have been readily discussed in the news and on social media — especially since Britney Spears was also recently freed from her infamous, 13-year-long conservatorship. Although the two stars began their careers during childhood, grew up in the spotlight, and both lived under conservatorships, the circumstances surrounding each woman are, in fact, very different. Writer and pop culture expert Erin Keller, who currently shares commentary at NickiSwift.com and serves as a digital content producer at The New York Post, breaks down the similarities and differences between Amanda and Britney’s conservatorship cases. 

“Both Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes’ conservatorships were started by their parents, but it seems Bynes’ parents actually had their daughter’s best interests in mind while Britney’s conservatorship financially helped her dad, and possibly her mom and sister,” Keller tells Her Campus. “One difference is that Amanda Bynes’ conservatorship was backed by medical documents while Britney’s was not.”

Additionally, Keller iterates that Spears was forced to work, perform shows, and sell albums during the time under her conservatorship, while Bynes appeared to have more freedom to live, receive treatment at various rehabilitation centers, and seemingly, had genuine support from her family. In fact, in her nine years as a conservatee, Bynes reportedly enrolled in fashion school, took classes, and even got engaged to her fiance Paul Michael, who she first met at Alcoholics Anonymous. 

What have we learned from Amanda & Britney’s conservatorship cases?

“I think the biggest takeaway from Amanda Bynes’ case is that conservatorships can be in the best interest of the conservatee and don’t need to require everyone involved exploiting the person they’re supposed to be helping,” Keller tells Her Campus. “Amanda said it should be over, her parents agreed, and the judge ended it. Britney said in court that she was unaware that she could ask for her conservatorship to end.” 

With this in mind, it is vital to remember that all conservatorships are different, and are set under different circumstances. In fact, many disability advocates claim that most conservatees do not have it nearly as easy as Bynes as far as getting “set free,” and that they hope that her case does not distract from efforts to reform the legal system. 

Keller also notes that the public perception of conservatorships and mental health has changed since the early 2000s. “In 2007, we viewed Britney’s head-shaving as her going ‘crazy,’ but today, we’re able to see those pictures and say, ‘Hey, I think she’s going through something here,’” Keller tells Her Campus. “I’m a firm believer that if she — and the responsible parties around her — sought mental health resources and maybe medication with a doctor’s ‘OK,’ [Spears] would’ve been perfectly capable of making her own health and financial decisions.”

Bynes’ release is a reminder of how far we’ve come in understanding celebrities’ mental health and recovery — after all, Hollywood stars are human. They, too, need access to quality mental health resources and support networks to live healthy lives. 

Since the end of her conservatorship, Bynes has received widespread support. 

Since Bynes’ conservatorship dissolution was announced on March 22, the actress has received support from her parents, fans, and even former co-stars who are reaching out to offer their well-wishes. Nickelodeon star Josh Peck shared with Insider: “I want her to do whatever makes her happy. And if that means that one day she’s acting again and in the business, great. I’m just a fan of hers as a performer, but more importantly, as a person.”

With her newfound freedom, Bynes reportedly has many new projects in the works — like potentially entering the beauty and fashion industry — and may have plans to move in with her fiancé. Bynes recently relayed to People: “In the last several years, I have been working hard to improve my health so that I can live and work independently, and I will continue to prioritize my well-being in this next chapter. I am excited about my upcoming endeavors — including my fragrance line — and look forward to sharing more when I can.”

If there’s anything to learn from Bynes’ case, I believe it’s the value of mental health services, community, and support networks; they can work together to help those who are struggling.

“[Bynes and Spears have] given us a glimpse of what conservatorship abuse looks like and what a healthy one can do,” Keller tells Her Campus. “Maybe someone in their position will hear about this on the news or read about it online and know their options and rights within their own conservatorship.”

I’m stoked to see a happy and healthy Amanda and look forward to cheering her on.

If you or someone you know is in need of mental health or substance abuse resources, there are many organizations and people ready to help. Crisis Text Line is a simple and easy thing to use without having to talk to someone face-to-face. Simply text “START” to 741-741 to get in contact with a counselor. Help is also available at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, often seen as SAMHSA. A comprehensive list of mental health resources is also available at adolescenthealth.org. Talking with trusted friends, family members, mentors, and/or general physicians are also great options for navigating mental health problems as well. 

In love with jokes, comprehensive sex ed and Stephen Colbert-- (Stephen, call me!) Kent State University Class of 2020, Current Freelance Journo Follow @MaSerra8 on Twitter and email mariaserra@hercampus.com for PR pitches!