'You don't have to be fragile and beautiful to be depressed'
How many times have you come across a 'cool' and 'edgy' young girl or boy, all dressed in back, grappling with an unknown mental illness on a Netflix show or social media post?, or a hoodie with a phrase printed on it that you aren’t sure destigmatises or promotes poor mental health? Or perhaps you were also in the tumblr generation, where you undoubtedly came across countless pages dedicated to the glamourisation of depression, self harm and eating disorders, to name a few. My guess is that this potentially damaging image has popped up over the years, but it may not be something that you've thought too much about.
The romanticisation of poor mental health refers to portraying an illness as desirable or attractive, which overtime, through the use of social media, has turned mental illness into a trendy aesthetic, instead of showing what it really is; ugly, raw and painful. Social anxiety tends to be seen as adorable, depression is downplayed as a poetic tiredness, OCD is shown as a quirky habit and eating disorders are viewed as tragically beautiful. Unbeknownst to the directors, writers and influencers, the characters and content they create continue to inspire and normalise a generation of kids to idealise and glamourise what it means to experience mental health issues.
As a result, people are misinformed as to what mental illness actually is, what it looks like and how it's experienced. So now, when someone reaches out to a friend for support they may respond in one of two ways. One, they may not realise the gravity of the problem after comparing it to a storyline on tv and react with a lackluster show of support. Or two, they might not believe them, because at this point there are too many "attention seekers" claiming to be ill. Sadly, this inevitably prevents people who are suffering from ever reaching out, because they don't want to be seen as attention seeking and invalidated by loved ones.
On the flip side, the amount of awareness these shows and influencers bring to these topics is hugely valuable in breaking down the stigma and allowing people to feel ok about not being ok. More people are opening up about their struggles and reaching out to friends now more than ever, which I imagine has a lot to do with this increased awareness.
So where is the line? How do we find a balance between recognising and educating people on mental disorders and telling them that it's ok to reach out for help, whilst avoiding glorifying them in the process? I believe that producers and content creators have a responsibility to present the most authentic and honest image of mental health possible. Do your research, ask more questions and talk to people directly. Don't skip the parts that make you feel uncomfortable and prioritise educating yourself on what it means to experience mental illness before using your platform to talk about it.
We need to start having more open and honest conversations about the ugly parts of mental illness, not just the parts that seem trendy or beautiful.
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