Has mental illness become so romanticised in the media that it’s become desirable? In 2010 there was great progress in destigmatising mental illness since it was the first time it was discussed so openly before. While this is a fantastic thing, with this new transparency there are unfortunately also those who have taken advantage of it, romanticising mental illness to the extent that it seems to have become devalued into a “trend.”
We see this now particularly in the media, with influencers, movies, tv shows, and blog posts all contributing to this sweetening of a very serious topic. Here are just some examples of this:
1. Television and Movie Depictions
When TV shows or films depict mentally ill characters in a damaging light this can be influential in promoting self-harm or suicide. One of the most prominent examples of this is the Netflix show Thirteen Reasons Why, which has recently made headlines after it removed a controversial scene in which the main character’s suicide is shown in very explicit detail. While this choice has been met with mixed reactions, it is clear that the producers finally clocked onto the damage that the show was doing.
The problem with Thirteen Reasons Why is that it portrays suicide in a very strange light and shows it as a malicious act, as the protagonist uses her death to cause harm and put blame on the other characters while she herself is heroised. This is a damaging step to take as it glamorises suicide to a worrying extent, especially when there are impressionable young viewers watching.
This show has been condemned by several suicide prevention charities and a study by JAMA Psychiatry found that there was “an immediate increase in suicides beyond the generally increasing trend observed among the target audience of 10- to 19-year-old individuals in the three months after the show’s release.” This study highlights how impactful the media can be when portraying serious topics in a dramatised and glamorous light.
2. “Aesthetic” Tumblr Posts
Type anything mental health-related into Tumblr and a plethora of black and white images of beautiful girls crying with a quote about depression written over the top will come up. There’s a terrible association on the internet that pain equals prettiness and this is really seen on platforms such as Tumblr and Instagram.
Furthermore, these pictures of sadness quotes online are rarely ever helpful, and often enough they seem to promote suicide with quotes like “when does depression end? When it ends you” or “I’m nothing, I was always nothing.” These posts also normally have hundreds if not thousands of likes and reblogs, showing the dangerous reach that one post can have.
3. Influencer’s Capitalising On Mental Illness
In February this year YouTuber and Instagram model Corinna Kopf released her new merch, with hoodies and t-shirts with the slogan “my anxieties have anxiety” written on the front and back with the dictionary definition of anxiety, at a retail price of $44. The problem with this line of merch is that it makes anxiety into a character trait.
Pushing the notion that it’s something cute and relatable that 12-year-old girls will wear to school without knowing the real impact behind it; and trivialising the experience of anxiety which so many people struggle to deal with on a daily basis. This is only one example of the capitalisation of mental illness, as it is becoming more and more common in the media every day.
These are perhaps the main ways in which I have seen mental illness romanticised and undermined into something desirable and “trendy” in the media. This is an issue in which it’s damage is difficult to measure yet it is clearly heavily influential to a lot of people, especially those who are young and impressionable. What are your thoughts on this topic? Let us know in the comments below.