Are You Romanticizing Mental Illness?

by Cassandra Di Tomasso

Social media has created the platform for us to have serious open discussions on some critical social issues. We are in the era of sparking conversations globally.

Y2K babies, now all grown up, have been described as forward-thinking, dynamic, and take action. Their momentum has been helpful on so many social issues, notably on the topic of stigma associated with mental illness. Society is changing and evolving, but the fight against stigma is far from over, and here is a factor hindering progress.

The Fine Line

A fine line has emerged between normalizing and romanticizing mental illness, a distinction that can make an important difference between supporting the movement or setting it back.  

Normalizing mental illness  allows society to view mental illness realistically and personally as something they will see in their own life, or in someone close to them, while extinguishing the
glorified or negative preconceived notions that stigmatize and marginalize those who have debilitating mental illness.

Normalizing mental illness is empowering because it will provide the space to be heard, and understood without prejudice by the important people in their life such as family, friends, employers, teachers, classmates, police officers, doctors, and pretty much everybody in society in general can make a difference. This in effect will lead individuals opportunities to seek professional health care, develop proper coping skills, and have honest conversations about sickness so they can be better informed on how to get the proper help and treatment they need and deserve. 

Romanticizing mental illness on the other hand can create misguided notions that cloud
judgement and dilute the reality of the disease, as well as the pain and suffering associated with debilitating mental illness. 

Traditionally, pop culture gives us some concrete examples to exemplify the dangers of romanticizing mental illness. Film and television set the precedent and are notorious for romanticizing mental illness for the sake of a good story line. The damage is done by misrepresenting mental illness or presenting them in an alluring, mysterious, dangerous or
desirable fashion.

You must have heard about the movie Psycho. It's a classic! After the movie people used the title as new linguistic slur to despite or belittle someone with a mental disorder, a problem that added to the stigmatization of mental illness. Though this was never the intention of the movie, people tend to think a ‘pyscho’ is a dangerous and maladjusted person with a mental illness. 

The New Culprit

Social media is the new culprit. Its emergence is bittersweet to what concerns destigmatizing mental illness. Associating everyday normal moods with serious mental illness is trending. Consider the person who says things like "I missed his call, i am depressed". Mis-using the word depression so often in our vocabulary over time changes society's idea of what depression really means. It was probably the reason why serious and clinical before depression emerged in everyday language when referring to a DSM-V mental illness diagnosis- to be clear.

Furthermore, suicide should not be used casually in every day conversation to describe how you felt about science class being “so lame”!

Sharing or creating social media content that promotes self-harm or suicide is tragic, and may have irreparable consequences. Conversations about suicide are valid when it’s done with honesty and the best of intentions. Conversations that glorify or promote suicide are not. Social media influencers who have capitalized on gimmicks invalidate serious mental illness,  

To summarize: panic attacks are not cute, eating disorders are not tragically beautiful, acting or feeling suicidal does not make you edgy. If you are feeling unwell, and need a resource, contact your local health authorities or present to a health service such as a GP or hospital. Nurses, and social workers are often great sources of information. 

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Be sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you think about the concepts of romanticizing vs normalizing conversations relating to mental health. 

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