Are we romanticizing mental illness? Hear me out.
I’m calling you, me, and all of us out. We need to stop.
The mental health awareness week is going on, and everyone will be talking about how mental health is important, as it always has been. Before the taboo turned into a fascination, a common slang, or even a fashion statement, its real purpose was sidelined.
Capitalizing on mental health problems is the best we could do with all the mental health awareness campaigns.
I’m not here to deny the fact that mental health awareness has made it easier than it was, to talk about it. There are more resources than ever to reach out to if you are struggling. And we surely have come a long way.
But the problem I see is deeper and more widespread than awareness itself.
Mental illness terms’ casualness: A mainstream issue
Mental illness terms are not adjectives or alternative slang for your problems
Words being casually thrown out in gossip sessions and get-togethers — it’s no longer a stigma, for sure. Where we were supposed to remove the stigma around the problem, we made it a joke.
Self-deprecating jokes are the new trend in town. Gen-Z, my very own generation, is its biggest flagbearer. The fact that people who really are suffering are still too silent to utter a word or seek help. Then where have we progressed? In which direction?
I never attended a party and missed out on the casual use of the words “depression” “anxiety” or “panic attacks”.
Here’s the latest one: “Bro, that movie left me depressed”
Because of how we are making jokes about it, some people are suffering and laughing with you. What if they reach out to you for help, saying; “I think I have anxiety” and you joke it down by saying “ aye hi-five I think, me too”? (without actually meaning it?)
As a result of mainstream media portrayals, we use mental illness terms as adjectives for inconveniences.
While your dark jokes are good for a laugh, we have a problem if they come from a place of negligence. When words like depression, anxiety, or panic attacks are used as alternative slang, they lose their importance and actual meaning.
Capitalization and Romanticization of Mental Illness.
Anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are the three most trivialized and romanticized disorders of all. This romanticization comes from the idols and icons from TV shows/ movies, and even books, which have tragically failed to show us the real picture of the illness. But instead romanticized in the most cinematically aesthetic way.
The Game of Influence: The Generation of Validation
Brands and influencers have taken it one step further, by launching clothing lines, with phrases like, “my anxiety have anxieties”, “I thought i was bipolar, turns out I was just a jerk”. Teenagers would go above and beyond to follow an influencer, to look cool in the group, and to feel included and validated.
The urge in our generation to prove “i’m not like them” have come to a level that they see mental illness as something fascinating.
It makes me sick to even look at the pictures, and it might trigger people, but if you just Google (soft grunge) it, you will know where I’m at.
It’s not glamorous to take your own life, it’s not aesthetic to make self-harm look cool with those bandages in hand.
What made mental health illness an aesthetic?
The credit for glamorizing mental illness goes to the shows that made it look easy, or cool, brands that made mental illness a fashion statement, and the biggest fish in the sea, “Social Media”.
Along with those fictional characters who failed to portray the reality of mental illnesses and made it look beautiful, social media platforms like Tumblr and Instagram have embraced the trend of glamorizing self-harm and suicide as “cool” topics to post about.
See, I don’t have any issue with movies and shows giving real problems to fictional characters; what can be better and more influential for awareness? But we have a problem if these problems are made to look small or beautiful. Because they are not. They are ugly, unbearable, uneasy, and complicated most days.
And here’s what came out of it:
Depression became cool, anxiety became normal, and the people actually suffering who reached out felt stupid for doing so. We are now so aware that everybody has self-diagnosed themselves with some or another mental health problem.
Mental illness terms have become adjectives for our problems and inconveniences. We don’t get nervous anymore. Sadness and panic are not real terms but cheap and rarely used alternatives to anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.
How does this affect the ground problem and the need for awareness?
The denial of the illness and people’s suffering.
With the negligence and ignorance of our generation to actually educate ourselves on the terms, and not use them mindfully. It became more of an aesthetic problem that sidelines the cruciality and seriousness of the topic itself.
It’s different and unusual to live with an illness, but it’s not easy or beautiful.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s nothing desirable either.
The people who have it do not desire it, if anything, they desire to get out of it.
A lot of problems come into the picture when we romanticize mental illness, including:
1. Feeds into the misconstructed ideas about mental illness.
Where we are still at, “chill out” “you are thinking too much,” and “it’s all in your head” scale of awareness. Romanticizing makes it even worse by feeding misunderstood and misconstructed ideas about mental health and mental illness.
When mental illness terms become common slang, we deny ourselves and others from the seriousness of the illness and empathy for people who are actually suffering.
2. Makes mental illness seem like something desirable.
Social media has turned mental illness into a glamorous trend. Shifting the focus from people actually going through such illness, invalidating their suffering and struggles.
Leave mental illness out of the trend, leave it to its seriousness. Let’s not associate mental illness with everyday moods and events.
To put a fairly clear picture out, there are 280 million people suffering from depression worldwide, according to WHO. And it’s not just about feeling sad and lonely. It affects every aspect of the life of someone suffering from it. There is nothing artistic or desirable about depression.
Anxiety is not aesthetic or glamorous. It actually makes the lives of people suffering from it miserable. And panic attacks are not synonyms for having panic, they may lead to hyperventilation and self-harm in severe cases.
Here’s the real deal, mental illness is not “beautiful” or “aesthetic”, It’s not something as casual as getting nervous or feeling panic, to use them as adjectives. For people who are suffering, these are painful psychological and physical experiences they go through every single day. It affects their lives and relationships just like any other illness.
Let’s take Mental Disorders back to their seriousness.
I need you to be mindful next time you use the word depressed for being sad. When you use the word anxiety for mere jitter and uneasiness. Or when you use the word “suicide” when you are in a complicated situation.
I am no good; I have my hands red from mistakes like these. I’ve done it all in the past, but since the moment I’ve realized how I was making a joke out of it. It was me undermining the seriousness of the issue. I’ve chosen to be mindful about it, and not use it as an alternative for anything it’s not.
I need you to detach art from the mental condition of a person. I want you to stop glamorising the illness, as if it’s something desirable, as if it’s a must-visit place for you to be cool.
And if you are someone suffering from any of it or see the symptoms, I see you.
- Please educate yourself on the symptoms and
- Please don’t self-diagnose
- Reach out to a psychologist or therapist
- Reach out to the helplines there to help you: India helpline; helpline for other countries
The last diagnosis I got I had “GAD” (Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but if I go by all the reels and quotes I’m coming across on Instagram, I’ve got ADHD, depression, bipolar, and a couple of other conditions.
I’m telling you what happens if you take the internet seriously and believe everything it says.
No two mental illnesses are the same, not two people with the same mental health issues have all the same symptoms. Educate yourself better than reels and memes.
Educate yourself better and guide yourself toward professional help and diagnosis.
Hey I’m Neeru. A freelance Writer and Social Media Strategist.