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Troubled child stars that have bravely spoken about their mental health

Mara Wilson and Drew Barrymore are two era-defining child stars that have spoken about the dark places they went to working in the entertainment industry at a young age – but both have also spoken out about bravely about attempting to overcome their struggles.

In doing so, they’ve become role models for us all – helping to de stigmatise mental health struggles for their fans and film audiences.

Due to pressures put on many young actors, there is sadly a long line of younger stars that experienced troubles during their youth, or years later.

But the more people that manage to speak out about the toxic environments they were put in as young stars, the more we can all help to promote a supportive environment.

Here are some young stars that bravely spoke out about their mental health struggles.

Macaulay Culkin

Macaulay Culkin became world famous for playing the lead role of Kevin McAllister

By age 15 Macaulay Culkin, by then already world famous for playing the lead role of Kevin McAllister in the Home Alone movies, had made more brave adult decisions than many of us do in our entire lifetimes.

Due to the abusive relationship he had with his father at home, he decided to take his parents’ names off his trust fund and find a new executor, so they had no control over the money he’d made from the set of Hollywood movies to his name.

“Look, I mean, it sucks,” he told Esquire in 2018, thinking back to the difficulties from his childhood. “But, it coulda been worse, you know? I wasn’t working in a coal mine. I wasn’t a child soldier. My father was not sexually abusing me.

“Certain f***ed up things happened, but f****d up things happen to kids all the time and they don’t come out the other end. I’ve got something to show for it, man. I mean, look at me: I got money, I got fame, I got a beautiful girlfriend and a beautiful house and beautiful animals.”

In his early adulthood he also experimented with recreational drugs, telling The Guardian in 2016 that he found it frustrating how the media portrayed him when he was young and vulnerable.

“The thing that bugged me was tabloids wrapping it all in this weird guise of concern,” he said. “No, you’re trying to shift papers.”

Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson played Matilda in the 1990s film adaptation
Mara Wilson played Matilda in the 1990s film adaptation

Mara Wilson played Matilda in the 1990s film adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl novel, and has spoken out about how unfair treatment she received during her childhood affected her life.

During the press junket for Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2000, aged 13, she was locked in a hotel room on her birthday after being promised a day off, she writes in the New York Times .

“I was now 13, and I was already ruined. Just as everyone expected,” Mara wrote.

“It was cute when 10-year-olds sent me letters saying they were in love with me. It was not when 50-year-old men did. Before I even turned 12, there were images of me on foot fetish websites and photoshopped into child pornography. Every time, I felt ashamed.

“My sexual harassment always came at the hands of the media and the public.”

Having experienced shame in her childhood, Mara now says she has control of her own narrative and her own life. “Someone I’d considered a friend asked, with a big smile, “How does it feel to know you’ve peaked?”” she writes.

“I didn’t know how to answer, but now I would say that’s the wrong question. I haven’t peaked, because for me, The Narrative isn’t a story someone else is writing anymore. I can write it myself.”

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan is still mostly recognised for the work she did in her childhood
Lindsay Lohan is still mostly recognised for the work she did in her childhood

Lindsay Lohan, who’s still mostly recognised for the work she did in her childhood and early twenties, including in The Parent Trap and teen roles in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls, experienced dark teenage years.

Her parents Dina and Michael Lohan exploited her young stardom, and Dina has said that Lindsay watching her father abuse her mother has led to her struggles. “Lindsay saw her dad abuse me—that’s why she’s so screwed up,” Dina told the New York Daily News .

She would also receive years of abuse at the hands of the media. Perez Hilton’s infamously cruel celebrity blog called her ‘LezLo’ when she publicly dated Samantha Ronson and called her “the queen of drama” after she was hospitalised after being hit by a motorbike.

Perez also wrote “Got drugs?” over her 2012 mugshot after she was arrested (she has been arrested multiple times for crimes like drug possession and driving under the influence.)

“When I chose to change my future, my life, I was like, ‘Where’s the one place I can find silence?’” she told the New York Times in 2018, discussing her move to Dubai.

Speaking of her troubles to Variety in 2019, she said: “It’s in the past. I always say to people, “You do realize that was over 10 years ago?”

“But it was definitely unfair and unjust at certain times, especially as a girl. I worked at the morgue [as part of a judge’s ruling for violating probation after allegedly stealing a necklace]. I’ve been through the ringer. It was horrible.

“But from those things, I became a lot stronger.”

Britney Spears

Britney Spears' life changed drastically after her singing talent was discovered
Britney Spears’ life changed drastically after her singing talent was discovered

Concerns for Britney Spears’ mental health were behind the decision to have her father Jamie appointed as her conservator, put in charge of her finances and many of her career choices, 12 years ago.

In 2007 the singer was arrested after she smashed the windows of a paparazzo van shortly after shaving her head in a hair salon.

“Framing Britney Spears is the latest project to reconsider women once ridiculed and reviled because of their role in salacious scandals, such as Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbitt and Paris Hilton,” writes a critic in the Los Angeles Times, commenting on the recent documentary about the singer.

Britney grew up in the spotlight
Britney grew up in the spotlight

“It asks us to ponder our collective complicity in the mockery and sexist criticism to which Spears has been subjected.”

As well as the intrusive media, Britney grew up in a family of warring parents. She said in 2002 when parents Jamie and Lynne divorced: “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to my family. My mom and dad, bottom line, do not get along. When I was a baby, they argued. I wanted this to happen 10 years ago.”

People in Britney’s life have explained how her childhood relationships had a damaging effect on her life. “Her childhood was centred around becoming a star and I feel she is determined to give her kids a real childhood, unlike what she had,” ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib told The Sun.

Recently, she has spoken about how she has been treated in the past. Commenting on the recent Framing Britney Spears documentary, she called out the makers as being “so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing.”

“Why highlight the most negative and traumatizing times in my life from forever ago ????” she added.

Amanda Bynes

Amanda Bynes was one of America’s biggest teen stars
Amanda Bynes was one of America’s biggest teen stars

Amanda Bynes was one of America’s biggest teen stars around the turn of the millennium, as the eponymous lead of The Amanda Show. However, a decade later, she had a couple of run-ins with the authorities, having been charged with driving under the influence, and caught smoking marijuana in the lobby of her apartment building.

In 2018, she spoke to Paper magazine about how seeing herself on camera playing a boy in the film She’s A Man led to depressive periods. “I got really into my drug usage and it became a really dark, sad world for me,” she said.

But speaking about her downfall, she added she’d “been through the worst and come out the other end and survived it,” and was excited for the future.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore shot to stardom at the age of 7 in E.T.
Drew Barrymore shot to stardom at the age of 7 in E.T.

Drew Barrymore, whose most famous role is still the child lead in E.T which she filmed aged seven, has said she started smoking cigarettes aged 9, drinking at 11 and smoking marijuana at 12. She began snorting cocaine at 13, and she has attributed this behaviour to her sharp rise to fame.

“At 13, it was that sad sob story,” she told People magazine in 2020. “I’ve had many times of my life exposed without my choice, and I’ve exposed things myself completely willingly.”

However, Drew would enter rehab aged 14, and has spoken about how she managed to overcome her troubled past. “And then I picked myself back up,” she said of the end of her difficult period of her youth.

“I’ve been married, I’ve gotten divorced, I’ve raised myself, for better or worse. I have these two girls who are my entire universe. And it has all been out there.”

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato first appeared on TV in 2002 in the US series Barney & Friends
Demi Lovato first appeared on TV in 2002 in the US series Barney & Friends

Demi Lovato first appeared on TV in 2002 in the US series Barney & Friends, and went on to establish a TV and successful pop career, having sold over 24 million records in the US alone.

However, she fell into drug and alcohol addiction in her teens and was self harming before the age of 18. After going through rehab, she was rushed to hospital in 2018 after an overdose of oxycodone with fentanyl.

“The doctors told me that I had five to ten minutes, like, if no one had found me, then I wouldn’t be here,” she told CBS News.

This year, Demi revealed in an interview with The Sunday Times that she’d been raped aged 15 and lost her virginity that way, during her time working as an actor for the Disney channel.

This year Demi has also spoken about the ways she is trying to overcome the traumas of her past, including her eating disorder, which she used to disguise by covering her body with her hair.

Revealing new shorter hair on The Ellen Show this year, Demi said: “When I started doing all this work on myself I thought, what is something I’ve been holding onto my whole life that I need to let go of? And it was that [my hair]… I feel more myself now.”

She said of her new YouTube documentary, Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil: We’re going to learn from our role models who have overcome their deepest darkest struggles. This is what happened, this is how I got through it and hopefully this can help you too.”


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