A few of decades ago, virtually nobody would go to their doctor to talk about their Mental wellbeing. If they found themselves 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, victimised, made fun of or ostracized by society. People would hide their struggles and be afraid to admit that they were struggling. Thank goodness, those bad old days are now disappearing. However, now we are gradually moving away from the stigma and shame of owning up to having a Mental Health condition or a hard time. The question however arises that have we taken this too far? In the age of Mental Health Awareness and advocacy for help seeking and treatment, a clashing trend that has grown increasingly common is the romanticization of mental illness, and this has to stop.
In the journey of ending the stigma around Mental Health, the movement has drastically changed towards a trend of romanticizing and sensationalising Mental Health conditions. Though Mental Health conditions aren’t something people should be ashamed of, it also isn’t something that people should aspire to have. The romanticization takes place when one portrays a Mental Health condition as “glamorous” or “beautifully painful.” This viewpoint also normalizes these disorders as something that is attractive and bitterly desirable instead of recognizing that these disorders are real issues that affect people’s lives in many ways and often can be fatal as well. Mental Health conditions is all-encompassing, all-consuming and it hurts. These conditions aren’t beautiful simply because pain isn’t pretty. In this piece we will look at some of the ways this romanticising is happening so we can identify it when it does, and why this is problematic.
The new generation, Gen-Z has brought a lot of awareness towards Mental Health and Mental Health conditions while striving to normalise this. However, in this quest, another concern has emerged in that that while looking to creating a destigmatized society, they have also created a society which has romanticised it. For instance, now having anxiety is deemed as a quirky character trait, having OCD is considered cool and suffering from depression adds some spice to life.
The internet is a wonderful platform to discuss issues and notions regarding Mental Health and can help break stereotypes as well. While it is important to talk about these issues, we must make sure that we are not romanticising and glorifying them. At times, it is portrayed as something which is ‘beautiful’ and ‘deep’ owing to which often people believe that pain and tragedy are sufferings that everyone must go through. “Beauty” and “pain” are at the poles apart on the spectrum. So why are people everywhere talking about how pain is beautiful? By using these terms together, the notion becomes that pain is pretty and completely disregards the struggles of people who actually suffer from Mental Health conditions. Mental Health conditions are in fact deliberating conditions where individuals face acute distress and agony.
We often also see individuals throw around Mental Health conditions every day as if they are adjectives. People say things like, “I’m so depressed, I failed my midterm,” or, “my room always needs to be organized, it’s my OCD.”, or “I cant find my keys, I’m definitely going to have a panic attack.” Teachers will often teach students that “depressed” is a synonym for sad, “anxious” is a synonym for worried, “bipolar” is a synonym for moody and so on. Taking this ahead, girls are often called “anorexic” because they appear physically thin. These labels and misuse of words in fact make it harder for people living with these issues to come forward and seek help. We need to reflect on one thing - since when did we start self-diagnosing with terms we don’t know about or know little about due to a stereotypical representation?
The reality is that these conditions are far from “beautiful”. They are extremely painful physiological and physical experience that people go thorough everyday. These conditions impact all aspects on an individual’s life. Mental Health illnesses are precisely that – illnesses. They can take over your life, and those who are genuine sufferers often find their Mental Health problems crippling 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. Romanticisation of Mental Health conditions end up creating a glamourous and fancy portrayal of these conditions. These distorted images often appeal to people and make it look like an “aesthetic” to aspire to. These sensationalised and glamourous portrayals, rather than breaking the stigma around Mental Health feeds to the misunderstanding and misconstructed ideas people have about Mental Health. When we clasp to such images, we deny ourselves and others to see the illness and people’s suffering for what it truly is, painful. As a society, maybe we need to introspect whether we have gone a tad bit too far in trying to destigmatize the talk around mental illness that it’s created a new facade. Sadness doesn’t make you more attractive - it only makes you hurt.
Mental health conditions aren’t a fictional story that are made up by an author. They are painful and they continuously change lives. So why, do we often make them out as fairy stories? As a society, we need to stop romanticising and sensationalising Mental Health conditions. They are not superpowers or beautiful. These portrays distort the actual issue and, in some cases, can promote trauma. By telling people that these conditions are beautiful, we may be pushing many people to not seek help or look out for treatment. Yes, we need to have honest conversations on Mental Health but we also need to stop romanticising this.
We as a society should bear in mind that destigmatizing mental illness shouldn’t cross the line into romanticizing it. Mental Health conditions are far from being an “aesthetic” - they’re tears, trauma, triggers and breakdowns. They’re also therapy, medication, suicidal thoughts and self-destruction. They’re losing all your motivation, letting down your loved ones and occasionally slipping up on your education and goals. They are a daily battle that can feel impossible to win.
Pain doesn’t equate to pretty. Pain equates to pain. Please stop invalidating a real illness just because you want to be “on trend.” Please stop contributing to an already toxic stigma. Know that Mental Health conditions should be normalized but not as in “everyone has one,” but in the sense that “you are not alone.”
Let’s stop romanticizing things that hurt the most.
Written by: Vedica Podar
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