Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Cindy Ma
Illustration via Psychology Today
The romanticization of mental illnesses in the media is a pressing issue that glorifies them. Additionally, social media has made it seem as though mental illnesses are cool to have and often do not show the harmful side effects of them. This creates a dangerous precedent that discredits them. Of course, it is important to normalize talking about mental illnesses and spreading awareness, but at what cost?
Mental illnesses are often the punchline of jokes in TV shows and movies, and this misrepresents the reality of living with a mental illness. Many popular shows such as Skins and Euphoria have been turned into an aesthetic when in reality, they depict real-life dangerous struggles. This romanticization promotes a sensationalized environment that can be harmful and lead people into disordered behaviors. The show Skins presents a girl who suffers from an extreme eating disorder along with other abusive relationships that have been romanticized all over social media outlets. Her illness was glorified and edits were made of her saying triggering lines about her disorder but in reality, eating disorders lead to hair loss, cardiovascular problems, nausea and so much more that is not talked about.
Social media is an amazing platform for young people to express themselves and connect with others, but it has also become a breeding ground for romanticizing mental illnesses. Social media has created an individuality complex that leads people to believe that you need something that will set you apart. Especially amongst teens, having a mental illness can function as this separation. Being depressed, experiencing anxiety, and having attention disorders are seen by some as being unique and cool.
Depression is often one of the most misrepresented mental illnesses and is almost sought after. Songs made by artists that are associated with being depressed are categorized as “tragically beautiful.” There are even trends on TikTok that claim that if you know a certain amount of “depression songs,” you are depressed. This is a dangerous precedent that leads people to self-diagnose and avoid seeking professional help. The actual symptoms and behaviors are rarely mentioned and when they are, people call it disgusting. Depression is romanticized until people actually exhibit not being able to shower, get up in the morning, or brush their teeth. This discourages those who have been diagnosed with depression from accurately educating others.
Even in the news, mental illnesses are portrayed carelessly. For example, reports on mental illnesses often focus on the wrong things. They often give overly graphic details on suicide which focuses the story on the death and act rather than how it can be prevented in the future. Suicide has also been shown to be “contagious.” By going into detail on how someone commits suicide, it can be triggering for some people. Without providing the proper coping skills and professional help sites, this presents a damaging example for all ages.
The first step to de-romanticizing and de-stigmatizing mental illnesses is to bring a proper portrayal of mental illnesses into the media. This means having proper information and representation in the media. Affordable and accessible healthcare is also an urgent necessity to provide help for those who may be struggling. Bringing awareness to mental illnesses while not portraying a glamorized version of them can change the way they are perceived. Some things you, as an individual, can do are recognizing harmful trends and educating yourself and others on how mental illnesses are romanticized and stigmatized today.
Written by writer Cindy Ma