Glorifying mental illness is not okay
From stigmatized to glorified, perceptions of mental illness shifted from one extreme to another
cw: suicide, mental illness
Though there is a stark contrast between stigmatization and glorification, both processes inherently amplify the attention directed toward an individual’s mental illness, disregarding the other attributes that make that person who they are.
Particularly, in the media and among young adults, mental illness is gaining recognition as a desirable quality. Posts on social media romanticizing and glamourizing these conditions are growing, but at a cost for those who are truly suffering.
Circulating media glamourizing and misrepresenting mental illness have also promoted the notion that a diagnosis defines an individual and contributed to a culture where mental illness is trendy and something that should be coveted.
Our society has the tendency to extract a few socially acceptable traits from prevalent mental illnesses while completely overlooking the larger associated range of clinical symptoms. For instance, anxiety is reduced to simply being shy or introverted and depression is characterised as sadness. These stereotypes obscure the reality that anxiety and depression — the most common mental illnesses in the world — severely impair an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks.
Even in day-to-day conversations, comments like “my OCD is so bad today”, as an expression to convey a desire for tidiness, minimize the experience of having a mental illness such as obsessive-compulsive disorder which can involve immense fear, stress and doubt that make daily life challenging and miserable. These comments can have grave consequences and may be potentially triggering to those who are suffering from the illness.
Viewing mental illness as something to be sought-after is a detrimental mindset even for those who are not affected by it. Studies have found that alluring depictions of mental illness in social media and other forms of media can lead to a strong yearning for mental illnesses and associated behaviours among young adults. Specifically, with suicide and self-harm, aesthetic posts with quotes framing suicidal individuals as “angels that want to go home” romanticize and encourage the perception that mental illness is something that is “tragically beautiful”.
Clearly, there is still a lack of knowledge surrounding mental illnesses among the public and the misrepresentation and glorification of these illnesses is only setting us back.
With World Suicide Prevention Day having just passed and this week being Mental Health Awareness week, along with declining mental health among post-secondary students, we need to recognize the harms of glorifying mental illness and work to continue de-stigmatizing the issue by promoting awareness, acceptance and more importantly, advocacy for action. Our governments, institutions and organizations also have a tremendous role to play in making mental health supports accessible for all individuals.
If you or someone you know is in need of mental health support, please know that there are ways to get help. McMaster University’s Student Wellness Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association offer a variety of resources, services and information that may help you begin prioritizing your mental health and well-being.
If you are in need of more urgent services, the McMaster Students Union Student Assistance Program provides all McMaster students with access to 24/7 multilingual mental health support from professional counsellors at no cost. To get help immediately, please call or text 1-888-377-0002.