In the past few decades, awareness of mental health issues has been on the rise. Suicide cases have prompted discussion about mental health in varying degrees across different societies. Mental health issues have also been studied and researched more by academics and experts. Since there used to be a stigma (and there still is one in many conservative societies) around mental health, openly talking about it is a feat in itself. However, a lot of people tend to romanticize and glorify mental health in the media. Many have argued that mental health is now normalized in society.
Given the current situation and the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have reported experiencing mental health issues, to the point that many now consider it normalized in society. Because the pandemic has caused psychological distress, more people have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of uncertainty in relation to work, school and relationships. As the pandemic has gone on, these negative feelings have only been exacerbated as people continue to get used to this new normal. Having a lack of support makes it harder to deal with. Many conversations are about self-care and mental health, as well as doing things specifically to benefit your mental health. Fortunately, with more people being open about mental health issues, it is easier to have conversations about it and people who need it can seek help without feeling the burden of a stigma. Even though the normalization of mental health does reduce its stigma, some people use the term “mental health” loosely and still do not take it seriously. They casually use mental health issues to account for casual negative emotions when it is actually a larger problem, leading people who actually experience mental health issues to feel invalidated. The misuse of words means that conditions like depression and anxiety are often joked about.
Mental health has also been glorified and even romanticized in mainstream and social media. While the Internet is an appropriate platform to discuss mental health, a lot of its romanticization takes place on social media. In many conservative societies, discussions about mental health are frowned upon and obtaining appropriate treatment for it has negative connotations. A lot of people cannot talk about mental health with their families because of the stigma associated with it, so they may turn to social media and the Internet as an outlet and to connect with others who may be facing similar issues. The Internet has so many platforms for interaction, which people may find comfort and solace in. Discussions also have the power to break down stereotypes and stigmas. But this is also where the glorification and romanticization happens.
Romanticizing mental health turns it into a trend or an aesthetic that a lot of people quickly latch onto, without knowing its true effects and repercussions. Distorting its image does not allow people’s suffering to be acknowledged. Mental health issues are very serious and life-threatening in many cases, but this is ignored when it is romanticized and glorified. Its detriments are taken lightly and invalidates the experiences of those who are suffering. This may make it even harder to discuss and talk about because of the many misconceptions that are associated with it. Teenagers may get the wrong idea about it and falsely claim to have mental health issues if they are not fully aware of what it really is.
The romanticization of mental health makes it seem like having issues is “fun,” but this is entirely untrue. Millions of people suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other issues. Mental health takes a toll on physical health and significantly reduces the state of one’s well being. Getting treated is not easy and it is still very difficult to talk about with many. Support is incredibly important. However, glorifying mental health reduces the seriousness of the issue. In many cases, romanticization has even encouraged self-harm and suicide. Floating around Tumblr and Instagram are pictures of forearms with scars or blades with flowers scattered around them, usually accompanied with some kind of nice-sounding quote. These posts justify self-harm and do not encourage those who may be suffering to seek professional help. Shows like ’13 Reasons Why’ also perpetuate the idea that suffering is seemingly beautiful and portray mental health issues as being glamorous.
While the normalization of mental health has some benefits, its romanticization and glorification in the media is problematic as it feeds into misconceptions and gives people the wrong idea. Mental health illnesses are not beautiful or glamorous – millions of people suffer because of it and they have detrimental effects. This unhealthy portrayal turns having mental health issues into an aesthetic and trend. It prevents people from taking it seriously when they should in fact be providing support and encouraging those who are suffering to seek professional help. There is nothing beautiful about suffering, so we should stop making it seem like there is.
Feature Image: SYDNEY SIMS