Mental illness can be defined as health conditions involving changes in emotion, behavior, thinking or the combination of these. Discussions surrounding mental illness used to be taboo however now it has become far more normalized. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. as this has affected over 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. As the discussion surrounding mental illness continues to become more open, the idea of self diagnosing oneself has become more desirable.
Mental illness became mainstream and more people actively seeked out modern day medication to treat it in the 16th century. In the past people believed that mental illness was caused by demonic possession, witchcraft, or an angry god. Now issues surrounding mental health has penetrated not just social media but also mainstream media. Such issues are discussed on a global scale and more people recognize it as a potential harm towards individuals of all ages. The problem arises when people go above and beyond to categorize themselves into certain groups to seem edgy or relatable.
Psychological testing suggests that nearly 12-15% of cases related to mental illness are in fact faked. Depression is often times faked as it is one of the more common mental illnesses and the reason being is to obtain rewards or to avoid undesirable outcomes. Malingering is known as the phenomenon in which an individual fakes a mental health condition to avoid jury duty, work or even obtain prescription drugs related to the illness. This phenomenon is commonly seen in the military in order to be discharged early and return home from war.
Pretending to have a mental illness has also became popular amongst teenagers as it is a way to get into particular social circles and be more relatable amongst peers. On average at least 16% of teens in school view mental illness as something stylish and unique that they wish to emulate. Some of the major issues regarding faking it are eating disorders (22%), self harming (17%), addiction (13%), depression (12%) and bipolar disorder (9%). All of these issues have become more talked about on the media, that some people think they are somehow missing out.
Mirroring can be defined as the behavior in which one person unconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. This is caused by external sources or the surrounding environment that indirectly impacts an individual’s lifestyle. Most people may unknowingly amplify their struggles to fit the status quo of a globally recognized issue to attain some level of attention. In the digital era, the mirror effect occurs when someone watches a video or reads comments or posts pictures online related to mental health.
Watching movies in which the protagonist suffers from a mental illness makes the illness far more desirable as Hollywood has a way to make everything seem glossy and polished. Constantly listening to music that revolves around mental struggle and self harm will ultimately corrupt the mind on a deep level to imitate such behaviors as we will soon rationalize the benefits of harmful acts. Positive mirroring exists however it is more common to mirror negative behaviors as they are beyond the social norm and a sign of separation from society.
Mirroring mental illness is harmful due to the fact that it is done unknowingly and the individual has no sense of awareness regarding their actions or mental perceptions. This new state of mind is trying to compute information by finding a sense of relatability to the mirrored characters. This sheep mentality when it comes to impersonating celebrities or idolized individuals often causes the impersonator to lose their true self in the process. Embodying the persona of another individual is only desirable as only a portion of their lives are publicized and only this portion can be mirrored.
The other less known effects of mental illness are sidelined due to the prominent characteristics that are portrayed and this is what causes it to be desirable by the youth. Mirroring is a very one dimensional impersonation as it lacks depth and understanding. The ‘monkey see monkey do’ mentality proves that whatever that is beyond the realm of sight cannot be achieved and understood. This same mentality is applied when people romanticize over mental health. The fascination is solely built on what is portrayed at face value.
Social Media Trend
There came a point where the personas on social media that were built on the illusion of happiness were seen as disingenuous. Perfect lives were boring and people were sick of it on their feed. Now it is all about being sad and quirky by tweeting depressing relatability. Even pictures of happiness have to be complimented with a self deprecating caption as a means to depict how reality can be manipulated in an image. There are millions of posts that depict depression and anxiety in an almost poetic manner and this is what is known as beautiful suffering.
This simplified version of mental illness is depicted in the form of dark edits and quotes of surface level depth. This trend originally appeared on Tumblr and people thirsted over the depiction of mental illness due to the aesthetic that surrounded it. In the last 10 years there has been a 71 percent increase in mental illness diagnoses in adults aged 18-25 and this rise came alongside the rise of social media platforms. This over glorified depiction of mental illness is often times portrayed in the best light to appeal to a large audience. Its much like wanting to sell the idea to millions and prove how desirable it is and it’s evident that 18 year old’s worldwide are willing to buy it.
This trend of beautiful suffering categorizes mental illness and only makes the aesthetic ones desirable while the others are left in the abyss so this clearly isn’t a matter of educating the people as the ones that are being put in the spotlight are hand picked to meet popular demand. This skews the narrative regarding mental illness even further by proving that some mental illnesses are somehow better while others are portrayed in the context of insanity. A good example for this is bipolar disorder/ dissociative identity disorder (DID) which are viewed as distasteful while anxiety is somehow mesmerizing and attractive.
Making mental health trending by capitalizing on the persona or stereotypes is extremely dehumanizing on the basis that these complex and 3-dimensional issues are reduced to simplistic sketches or a 60 second video that appeals to an impressionable young audience. A more professional approach should be taken in the efforts to build a truthful narrative when it comes to mental illness in order to allow for more profound discussions to open up surrounding the topic. ‘Memeing’ the issue will only bud fallacies that will later corrupt the minds of the youth and set a false status quo in regards to the issue.
It’s Not Cool
More companies are choosing to capitalize on the phenomenon of romanticizing mental illness and choose to put out clothing lines or products that are built around the aesthetic of mental illness. This is tone deaf and clearly a cash grab for these huge corporations but it is hard to blame the supplier when there is a demand for the product to begin with. Songs and celebrities have made topics surrounding drugs, depression, anxiety and suicide aesthetically pleasing and cool which ultimately drives the marketspace as this headspace is accessed by millions of people worldwide through mass media and misrepresentation.
The romanticization of mental illness stems from this cool factor that is being plastered around us and eradicating that is the first step to truly acknowledging the reality behind mental health. The stigma surrounding mental illness has been broken and the taboo is slowly going away but it is at the cost of trivializing this matter altogether which should not be the goal. The usage of simplistic representations of mental illness as plot fillers in movies or as the tone of a music video may seem appealing due to the nature of the portrayal but we forget there is nothing particularly heroic or enjoyable about having to deal with this issue.
Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.— Scott Hutchison (@owljohn) May 8, 2018
The struggles of mental illness are deeply rooted that it may be easy to misunderstand the struggle of that and attempt to interpret it as poetic or beautiful. Writings in regard to suicide or mental health are often times words of reflection for the individual or a silent cry for help. There is no aesthetic depiction but merely a coping mechanism for individuals that truly suffer from mental illness. The battle against it is longstanding and tiresome so glossing over this deeply saddening and troubled reality is a disservice to those who have lost their lives to mental illness.
I’m away now. Thanks.— Scott Hutchison (@owljohn) May 8, 2018
The struggles surrounding mental illness are different for every individual and these differences have to be taken into consideration when attempting to portray this topic. Having a mental illness is not a personality trait so trying to emulate and embody it is futile. Mental illness isn’t a way to represent complexity in emotion rather it is the struggle to organize or compose emotion in a structured manner. Romanticizing mental illness isn’t a way to seem grown up or mature and the younger generation have to recognize that or there will be millions of self diagnosed depressed 12 year old’s in the near future.
Alter The Narrative
It is time to set a more genuine representation when it comes to mental illness and the struggles surrounding it. Beautiful suffering is something that has to end in the efforts to make people view this issue on a more serious basis. Altering the narrative will help spread a more consistent message that doesn’t hold biases for certain types of mental illness. If this narrative continues people worldwide will slowly become desensitized in regards to issues surrounding mental health and years worth of progress will ultimately be lost and forgotten.
Seek out credible sources when it comes to gaining a new perspective on social media and stop trivializing the matter by simplifying such a complex topic for a quick profit. Mental illness is a sensitive issue that truly harms individuals worldwide so obtaining a valid view regarding the subject will help the overall cause and break stigmas surrounding it. Depiction of mental illness in the media is very much needed but the approach that is taken can be altered in order to send a more genuine message. Glamorizing mental illness to appeal to young kids is highly immoral so the representations in movies or songs shouldn’t be sugar coated, rather left raw for people to get a better understanding.
A new narrative allows for a more educated generation that is able to critically view the issue rather than romanticize it. It is not a competition to see who has the better mental illness or who can live the most aesthetic lifestyle. Nobody lives a perfect life with constant ups but this isn’t an excuse to try and set an overexaggerated narrative for the sake of relatability. We evolved from hiding or ignoring our mental illness to now romanticizing it. We have reached a point where it’s time to walk away from both extremes and meet in the middle to articulate a more profound understanding regarding mental illness.
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