There’s a huge reason why I quit Tumblr more than five years ago, and it’s not just because of the rampant fandom wars across the geek dashboard, although that was a pretty significant contributor as well. But in between the numerous posts about ships and how they were or weren’t sailing smoothly, and inevitable spoilers for that TV show you haven’t managed to catch up with, there’s always one or twenty text posts about how broken and empty one feels, wrapped in pretty words and a black and white photo background.
And I used to (kind of) relate to them.
I’d bury myself in my own stories about loss and pain, about how nothing mattered more than the angst of being misunderstood. Thanks to emo rock bands, a penchant for drowning myself in too many novels and a tendency to write about my emotions, teenagehood was a wild ride.
But then I grew up and realized that, no. I was more than broken words and a desire to find someone to complete me. I was just a regular adolescent, who was a bit emotional and could sort of write poetry. I was less tortured artist and more of a lazy nerd who barely had to study to get good grades.
However, as someone who works with young people on a regular basis, it’s horrifying to see just how prevalent the idea that mental illness is a romantic quirk, too often propagated by mainstream media. Suddenly, everyone wants a Clay Jensen. The pink scars on your inner arm? “Totally relatable, I have them too.” Suffering from depression? “Oh man, me too; last night’s GoT episode broke me.” Can’t stop yourself from arranging your pens by length and colour? “Yeah, I’ve got a bit of OCD as well in me.”
And while media has done a lot in bringing these controversial issues to the forefront of society, they’ve also done a lot of damage in the process. Much of the time, mental illnesses are portrayed as a quirk; OCD is seen as being adorably picky and depression as a fuel for sentimental art.
But that’s honestly not the reality a lot of the time. It’s a real battle, not an excuse to be rude and self-absorbed.
So here are 13 reasons why we need to stop romanticizing mental illnesses.
1. It’s not a tool for seeking attention
Posting emo song lyrics and “ugh life isn’t worth it” on your Twitter account doesn’t make you “depressed”. It makes you look emotionally dependent on other people’s validation.
2. It doesn’t just happen to people who’ve had some form of trauma in their lives
Let’s get one thing straight: while mental illnesses can derive from traumatic experiences, sometimes they happen to people who, for some reason, have relatively happy lives and as such, it doesn’t seem like they have an excuse for experiencing these disorders. But that’s the thing.
3. It doesn’t discriminate
It can easily happen to anyone. Anyone. It chooses its victims randomly, but most commonly those who experience high stress levels on a regular basis, coupled with volatile emotions.
4. It doesn’t go away just because you found the perfect person
Look. No one can fix you; only your own will, determination and faith to get better, as well as prescribed medication, and prayer. So don’t even start looking for someone to heal your wounds because chances are, they’re battling their own struggles.
5. It gets cheapened as a plot point for stereotyped characters
Too often, I see a character with a mental illness as “the mentally ill character”, rather than “a character who happens to have mental illness”.
6. It isn’t synonymous with just being sad or neat
It’s an illness, not a Friends’ character trait.
7. It diminishes the effort made by people who are trying to spread true awareness
In the cacophony of what’s wrong and right about the way media portrays mental health issues, we often forget that it’s not hypothetical; the voices of those who are actively trying to spread awareness about the reality of living with a mental illness get swallowed up by yet another actor portraying symptoms and traits they may not possibly have ever lived with prior to 6 months before filming the movie or TV show.
8. It gives the wrong idea that mental illnesses can be self-medicated
Self-medication is potentially dangerous, and yet because of the stigma attached around the concept of mental illness, people who suffer from it too often resort to fixing themselves with Google search answers, rather than seeking the advice of a professional.
9. It encourages self-harm
There are many ways to cope with an issue like mental illness. Unfortunately, the one that seems to be the most well-known is mutilating one’s skin and falling into an unhealthy coping mechanism that, for some reason, get aesthetic points on social media.
10. It makes tragedy look beautiful instead of the disaster it really is
Depression is not beautiful. Anorexia is not beautiful. Suicide is not beautiful. It hurts, it destroys your emotional balance and self-esteem, and it is not the hauntingly gorgeous quotes you retweet; it’s an uphill battle every single day to regain some semblance of normalcy in one’s life.
11. It encourages young people to see mental illness as being “cool” and “different”
And perhaps it encourages other people to look at it in that way as well, but youth are particularly susceptible, which makes it even more tragic when adolescents who actually suffer from mental illnesses get labelled as “lazy”, “stuck up” and “aloof”, among other insults one can throw at them.
12. It is not a joke
I can’t tell you how exhausted I am of seeing YouTube comments like “This video cured me of my depression”, because there’s a pretty good chance that’s not true. Making a joke out of someone’s mental illness is akin to joking about any other diseases that affect you. If macabre humour is your niche, perhaps take it to somewhere else where people might appreciate it more, rather than commenting about it on a random cat video.
13. It is as real as other illnesses that affect other parts of your body
What some people still don’t get is that mental illness affects you physically, just as any other disease would. It takes a toll on your body, and some of the most common symptoms would be weight problems, a poor appetite as well as an overall weakened immune system.