Why There Is Romanticizing of Mental Disorders?
Mental disorders have been misunderstood and severely stigmatized for a long time. People have had mental health issues for long but awareness about the same has always been very superficial. In the beginning, it was the lack of recognition of the symptoms, and then the notion that it’s not normal. This led to people keeping their mental health issues to themselves and never speaking openly about it resulting in its stigmatization with non-scientific explanations. It has been considered a sign of weakness by most people, which is why there’s a fear to admit that they are suffering. It’s frowned upon and mocked at, making the sufferer feel like a culprit. However, our constant effort has brought us a long way toward understanding psychology and mental health since the Freudian era, where elucidations were used to explain a certain behavior that was a part of the disorders labelled way after his time.
Now, as mankind is increasingly becoming acquainted with various issues, we have created safe spaces outside of therapy where people can admit to having mental health concerns and openly seek help. During the present times, the variety and quality of help available have seen a soar even though it still falls short of the requirement. But what is more concerning is that we have moved towards romanticizing the idea of it.
I came across this post on Tumblr where a beautifully drawn silhouette of a girl with a high Ariana Grande ponytail was shown sitting with her legs half-folded holding a blade by her arm with a peaceful aesthetic. At the bottom of the post, it was written, ‘Why did you cut? Because it is the only pain I could control’, which immediately instigated a sense of discomfort. It almost seemed like the person had valid reasons for her actions and, somehow, effectively handled what was happening to her, emphasizing that it’s the only option available. To be precise, people who go for it usually have blurred vision, clouded with pessimistic thoughts. It’s usually an impulsive move and not a calm and peaceful one. Mental disorders are difficult, chaotic, ugly, and ruin many aspects of life if left untreated, unanswered, and stigmatized. The portrayal with a beautiful silhouette overlooking a window taking a blade and cutting herself/himself as if it’s a shower of rose petals or a peaceful experience is a wrong illustration.
People with mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar affective disorder and more don’t have the energy to even take a bath every day or get out of bed. They struggle to take food down their throat and barely have any positive thoughts. Their basic functionality gets disturbed. Anxiety causes literal pain and there’s nothing glamorous about that. They are not just sad and lonely; they suffer and that is something that cannot be glorified with charming graphics.
Moreover, there are many instances of these poetic posts on social media explicitly and implicitly telling their audience that someone who is sad and in emotional pain is “tragically beautiful”. The tragedy isn’t beautiful. That’s what romanticizing mental disorders does to our perception, it stigmatizes it even more. It gives a false impression to people, of the already misunderstood conditions and causes more harm to those who suffer from it. There’s a very famous quote, “Those who have suffered pain have gained wisdom”. Now, as much as we can agree that pain teaches a lot of things but is it a definite and the only source of acquiring ‘wisdom’? The answer is ‘No’. Quotes like these are heavily misunderstood and in a colloquial way give an idea that being in pain is what is needed to be wise. People, mostly subconsciously, make no effort to process their emotions or give in to change and growth. This is because they start to let the pain and misery define them as human beings, and that is, somehow, perceived to be beautiful. It creates what Seligman calls ‘learned helplessness’. It is a state of mind that gives rise to a belief that one is unable to control or change the distressing situation, hence they do not even try, even when opportunities knock at their door.
Romanticizing mental disorders isn’t just limited to social media. Be it in movies, tv-series, novels, posters, or news, the idea is getting popularised more as a fashion statement. As harmful as it is for the field of Psychology and the general population, it’s more harmful to teenagers and young adults as they are in an extremely impressionable age and are already struggling to attain developmental growth while choosing conformity or independence for themselves. They are vulnerable. Like I mentioned before, following the Tumblr post if a teenager assumes that all that she/he is struggling with is tragic but attractive and makes a choice for the same, it gives the notion that using a blade on oneself is the usual step taken when in pain. But it is a trap that the vulnerable falls into. If something that’s potentially harmful is made to look so appealing, it encourages similar behaviors. Even people who aren’t experiencing any distress could start imitating this problematic behavior to look “cool” in front of peers. It also leads the viewers to believe that mental illness is who they are as a person, making therapy sound like a sham. Being in depression, anxiety, or facing any mental issues does not give anyone a personality, it’s something they are going through. There isn’t a “depressed person”, there is always a person who “suffers from depression” and this dividing line needs to be more stringent and clear. The romanticising of these disorders makes those lines blurry resulting in significant danger. As per researches suicide and self-harm are highly influential. Many studies have been done to prove the same. This is the primary reason why suicidal and self-harming behaviors see a surge when news around these topics is presented in the media, especially in an exaggerated and highly sensationalized manner.
The cardinal point here is that we need to strike a balance. We need to break the stigma and have open and informed conversations about mental health. But we also need to be mindful that we don’t glamorize it and the first step towards it is rejecting the harmful notion that pain and tragedy are beautiful. They are unpleasant and nasty. We should try to create an awareness that being a sad person, sitting in a corner, all alone and crying looking outside at the rain is not a representation of being “cool”, the person might be suffering from something very intense. Never talking and keeping it to oneself does not add to a mysteriously beautiful persona. It is a sign that the person might be facing mental health concerns.
The romanticising of mental disorders most often happens subconsciously. It can be attributed to our innate need of assigning meaning to everything. When we read a poem with extraordinary rhymes and a blend of words forming beautifully delicate sentences, and songs where the melody is so blue that it weirdly starts to feel real and comforting, we start to idealize the concept. Since we do so without even realizing it, we need to be extra mindful of when it needs to stop. These art forms are beautiful and there’s no denying that but what they are not, is a source to rely on for information regarding mental health.
The fact that mental health is increasingly being talked about now is due to decades of study to understand psychological concerns and creating awareness regarding the same on a large scale. An increasing number of people have begun going for therapy and openly admitting the same. However, romanticizing of it is as wrong as the stigmatization of it. In order to achieve a milestone in mental health, small steps need to be taken. The school curriculum should include mental health awareness, while there should be workshops for teenagers and adults to make them realize the gravity of the situation we are in. We also need to make sure people understand that art pieces such as social media posts, poems, and songs among other forms, are not a valid source of information about mental conditions. To understand this, they need to reach out to a professional to get help or clarify doubts about mental health in general. We have been ignorant of mental health for an extensive amount of time but we need to remind ourselves that the opposite of ignorance isn’t romanticism. The opposite of Ignorance is ‘Erudition’.