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Romanticizing Mental Illness

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How social media and movies influence people’s mental health

Mental illness used to be a very misunderstood and taboo topic in the past, but with the rise of social media, the stigma surrounding mental illness is starting to go away. Social media influencers and actors’ depiction of mental illness is ubiquitous. The number of people exposed to these concepts increased tenfold.

Many impressionable people out there use social media as an escape from reality. Some influencers take advantage of those people to market themselves and their brands.

Some social media influencers have been monetizing mental health to sell merchandise and online courses. They sell shirts that have the definition of anxiety on them or a personal development course that is just a bunch of generic motivational quotes they got from Reddit.

They do this under the guise of spreading awareness and having a discussion about mental health, but with a little profit on the side. Instead of using their platform and their influence for good and actually helping those in need, they take money from struggling fans who line up to buy anything that they make.

Clothing brands and other companies also do this kind of monetization. They profit off of mental illness, and they don’t really care for the consumer’s well-being as a company’s sole goal is to make money, and this is just another tool to do that.

While they generally do a good job of showing it, movies and shows that depict mental health issues like 13 Reasons Why and Euphoria often get misinterpreted by some people into believing it’s cool to be like a certain character because they are complex and interesting.

This could be due to that character’s looks or the cinematography that has made the suffering and pain look beautiful and desired. The more aesthetically pleasing the pain is, the more likely we are to accept and admire it.

While most posts on social media sites like Tumbler, Facebook, and Reddit are funny, self-deprecating memes from people who use humor as a coping mechanism, some people take it the wrong way and tend to self-diagnose and use their supposed mental illness as a way to garner sympathy and attention.

They start creating fake scenarios and fantasize about mental health issues that they don’t really have just to feel relatable and connected to that certain meme or certain actor or social media influencer.

They think that being sad and depressed makes you complex and interesting while being happy is boring. They attach moral value to their suffering and try to derive meaning from it because suffering with meaning is far better than suffering without.

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Those people might feel that way, but that is simply not a healthy way to live. It is not interesting or complex to be sad and depressed. It is the worst feeling in the world, and no one who is truly depressed will ever glorify it or make it seem like an acceptable feeling.

People who suffer from anxiety and depression are not proud to have it. They learn how to cope and think of ways to deal with it. Mental illness can completely ruin someone’s life. It is something that should be taken seriously. A lot of people kill themselves over their mental health.

It has become a trend in recent years for people on social media to claim and sometimes fake mental illness. There are people on TikTok who fake having mental illnesses for views and attention. This will negatively affect younger, more impressionable people to want to be just like those people.

There has also been a rise in idolizing “That’s literally me” characters that seem relatable to most people. Characters like the Joker and Patrick Bateman from American Psycho are often admired and placed as backgrounds for superficially deep Instagram quotes.

These characters are depicted as mysterious, intriguing, confident, and cool through visuals and storytelling, and that will make some people who are not happy with their lives want to be like them.

I myself fell into this trap as a kid. I loved the Joker from The Dark Knight and wanted to be as powerful and confident as him, but after giving it some thought, I realized that I am nothing like him. Another big factor in deciding I’m not like him is the fact that he kills people.

How to avoid glorifying mental illness

You have to acknowledge that mental health is a very serious issue that a lot of people are suffering from, and just because you feel connected or relatable to a character or person does not mean you are like them.

There are a few other ways to not fall into this trap yourself. One of them is being self-aware about your mental health problems. Are you really like those characters you see on screen?

Also, you should do your research on mental illness before self-diagnosing yourself. It is also a very good idea to visit a doctor and talk to them about your mental health.

Talk to your friends about your mental health. Tell them what you are struggling with. You don’t have to suffer in silence.


© 2022 Haitham Al Bairouti

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