Are You Romanticizing Bad Mental Health?
Not so long ago, mental health issues were stigmatized. People were afraid to admit that they were suffering from anxiety or depression. Now, we’re moving away from the shame associated with owning up to having a mental health condition. However, have some people gone too far?
A couple of decades ago, virtually nobody would go to their doctor about their mental well-being. If they were feeling depressed, anxious or stressed they would just try to bury their feelings and carry on with their daily lives for fear that they would be criticized, made fun of or ostracized in society.
Thank goodness, those bad old days are rapidly disappearing. There is much better understanding both amongst medical professionals and amongst the general public today about mental health issues. There is considerably less stigma out there and fewer people are ashamed to tell their friends, family and doctor about the problems that they’re experiencing. This is great news, since it means that it’s possible to get help quickly before those issues get out of hand.
Yet a significant number of people are now romanticizing poor mental health. Having anxiety, depression or another condition is almost desirable these days. If you’ve ever seen a post on Facebook that says something along the lines of “I feel as if I’m bothering people simply by being alive” then you’ll know exactly what romanticizing poor mental health looks like.
Mental health problems are real. They can ruin lives, both for the sufferer and their families. However, a new generation of people are now becoming open to the suggestion that suffering from panic attacks is cute and that if you develop an eating disorder you’re tragically beautiful. Clearly, neither of these things is true. Mental illnesses are precisely that – illnesses. They can take over your life, and those who are genuine sufferers often find their mental health problems embarrassing and difficult to speak about. It becomes even harder to admit to having a disorder when others look at it as being a quirky personality trait which makes them more desirable and special.
Why Is There So Much Confusion About Mental Health Problems?
A quick scroll through social media these days will reveal countless cryptic messages with beautiful images attached making statements about feeling depressed. It all adds up to an image of mental illness as a sexy mindset – as if sufferers are so broody and deep that everybody will fall in love with them. For some, claiming to have a mental health problem replaces needing to develop a personality, while conversely, those who actually suffer are becoming increasingly reclusive and embarrassed about speaking out.
It seems harsh to say that the moves towards de-stigmatizing mental illness have gone too far, but in certain quarters, that appears to be the case. Now, some young people are actually aspiring to have a condition of their own. Mental health problems are now being glorified, and this makes it difficult for anyone with genuine illnesses to cope.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is young, lonely and depressed, logging onto a social media platform in search of somebody to talk to and to help them. If they see posts glorifying mental health problems, or worse, making suicide appear to be a tragic yet beautiful artform, it can easily turn the idea into a reality. This is why romanticizing mental illnesses represents a major problem which must be addressed. While some people are reposting these type of messages to get sympathy and attention, others will see it as the only viable option for them, which is extremely dangerous.
Why Is Mental Illness Romanticized?
We are living in a dangerous culture where critical topics like mental health problems are being trivialized. As a result, a significant number of people, many of whom are young, are romanticizing mental health issues. Attention seeking is now a go-to for lots of people, even if it’s coming in the shape of sympathy. Meanwhile heroic stories about recovering from depression and reaching the top are now normalizing mental health problems as just one stop on the path to ultimate success. Many people are starting to feel as if having a mental health condition separates them from the crowd and gives them a feeling that they are special, and who doesn’t want to feel special? It’s no wonder then, that in the current media climate increasing numbers of vulnerable people and particularly teenagers begin to think that they need a mental illness to make them feel significant and important in the world.
The Portrayal Of Mental Health Issues In The Media
Television has a complex and long history when it comes to the portray of mental illnesses. Characters who have mental health issues are frequently portrayed as being dangerous and violent. Sometimes, they’re even played off as a punchline, with mental health professionals like psychiatrists taking on the role of the villain. Although some modern shows are starting to show more accurate representations of mental health problems, not all programs have followed suit.
The Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” has caused a lot of controversy in recent years. The first season gain in both popularity and in criticism, with heated debates taking place all over the internet. The main character of the show kills themselves in an act which is framed as revenge against the classmates who caused her to suffer. This is a terrible misrepresentation of suicide, which in real life is rarely planned methodically. In this first season, there is also minimal mention of suffering from mental illness, although almost half of those who take their own lives have already been diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness.
Even in mainstream news, mental health issues are frequently portrayed carelessly or inaccurately. Although over the past few years there have been some improvements in how news outlets report on mental health problems, there is still a lot of sensationalism in stories which involve suicide or mental illness. When Kate Spade died by suicide in 2018, the news was reported in many problematic ways, with graphic details outlining the way in which she died as well as photographs of her body and sensationalist headlines which, instead of focusing on the death, concentrated on the act of the suicide instead.
Social media is currently a platform where young people can connect with peers and express themselves, however the dangers that it represents are significant. Forums on Facebook and Tumblr have enabled young adults and teenagers to create and share entirely unfiltered posts discussing mental illness, and while the open discussion online may help in fostering a community feel, there is also a growing trend of treating mental health problems as if they’re something which are actually desirable. Photographs of scars from self-harm which are overlaid with sensationalist quotes are frequently seen online. These only serve to make young people who have genuine conditions think that hurting themselves is an effective way to reduce their symptoms and to make their problems go away. Clearly, this is extremely risky.
Why Is The Media Portrayal Of Mental Health An Issue?
When mental illness is sensationalized, it can be very harmful, particularly for young teenagers who are highly impressionable. Images depicting self-harm often encourage other people to see mental illnesses as something which is tragic yet beautiful. Not only that, but sensationalism often leads people to start to believe mental illness is an inevitable part of their persona, and any attempt to treat it would be pointless. Memes which began as a way of calling people out for their dismissive attitude towards mental illnesses are now evolving into a way in which people make excuses for their own behaviors or even scoff at the idea of getting help.
When someone makes out that mental illnesses are cool, they’re taking away the focus from the real people who struggle with them every day. The upshot of this is that people who are self-harming aren’t getting help because their problem is viewed as being a trend. Teenagers who are depressed are often misdiagnosed by their doctors as simply trying to fit in with the crowd. In short, people are not getting the help they desperately need because other people are portraying mental health issues as being insignificant.
Even more dangerously, it’s been shown in studies that suicide is contagious. If there are sensationalist stories in the news about suicide, the number of suicides goes up. When “13 Reasons Why” was released, there were more online searches asking about suicide, and since evidence shows that more searches correlates to more suicides, this is very worrying news indeed.
How Can The Media Help To De-Romanticize Mental Illness?
It’s extremely important to de-stigmatize mental illness, so in general, it’s good news that today there are many more conversations online and in the media about mental illnesses. Yet, it’s still important to think about how the efforts to reduce this stigma has actually led to more problems. As we move forward, it’s important for those responsible for making movies and TV shows to show more accurate portrayals of poor mental health and to ensure that such portrayers are grounded in experience and research.
When news outlets release stories involving suicide or mental illness, they should be required to follow set guidelines like the ones which have been set out by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or the American Psychological Association.
More awareness needs to be raised about how those who are suffering can obtain help when relating such stories rather than simply focusing on the act itself. Mental illnesses are the same as any other type of illness – sufferers should be keen to get better and need help to work actively towards that goal. This is something that should be made clear online.
Romanticization of mental health problems also becomes blurred when people start “storytelling” rather than stating the facts about their problems. There are concerns about putting people off if they read something that’s too blunt however flowery language is never a good idea when discussing a serious topic like this. Opening up the conversation about mental health is still needed, with less waffle and more bluntness. Without confronting the stigma head on, how can it even be fully broken down? Yet that doesn’t mean that storytelling is always bad.
For those who struggle with mental health problems, poetic pieces can be more relatable than blunt ones. The key, however, is to depict the issues truthfully but without sugar-coating or glorifying them.
Am I Romanticizing Mental Health Problems?
Although it sounds sharp, it’s important to recognize when you’re truly mentally ill and when you’re just romanticizing mental illness.
If you’re saying that you’re depressed just because someone hasn’t replied to your text message fast enough, or you’re stating that you’re suffering from anxiety because you’re suffering from stage fright, you should think about how that impacts people around you with those disorders who often don’t feel comfortable talking so casually about what they’re going through. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health problems are extremely serious, so you should avoid exaggerating your situation or normalizing such problems. If you’re going online and taking Buzzfeed quizzes to tell you which mental illness you’re suffering from, you… may be looking at mental illness as an accessory or as an interesting quirk, not something that is life changing for those living with one.
It isn’t cool to be depressed, and being anxious doesn’t make you special or different. If you genuinely think you’re mentally ill, you need to go see your doctor to get a diagnosis, not ask the internet. Writing about your problems on social media platforms isn’t the way forward, so if you believe you need a diagnosis, go and get some professional help, see a therapist and get the treatment that you need to recover.
If you don’t believe that you need a professional diagnosis, you probably shouldn’t say that you’re suffering on social media. You may feel as if it makes you look different and mysterious but remember that it’s doing a major disservice to the millions around the world who genuinely battle these conditions every day and who struggle to overcome their overwhelming problems alongside the stigma for people with mental health issues. For them, there’s nothing romantic at all about their suffering.
If you are struggling with mental illness, suspect that you might have a mental health issue impacting your day to day life, or know someone that is, the first step is treatment. Getting a diagnosis can positively shape your life and put you on the path to treatment that will make your mental health that much more manageable.
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