The Romanticism of Mental Illness


Sovereign Health

A collage surrounding mental illness.

Emily Ito , Photojournalist

Mental health awareness has made incredible progress in recent years, with more people coming to an  understanding of the prevalent issue. Yet with these leaps and bounds, mental health awareness has also ventured into uncharted territory, with some feeling that mental illness has begun to be romanticized in modern culture.

Romanticizing of mental illness is the depiction of it as glamorous and fanciful. In social media especially, romanticization of mental illness is becoming increasingly prominent, especially on platforms such as Tumblr. On these sites, users utilize mental illness for their aesthetic or for trend factors. Illnesses such as depression or anxiety have been overgeneralized and handled insensitively in posts and comments. There is an ignorance to the imbalance of chemicals in the brain and these diseases are publicized with misconduct. These are an illustration of many people’s creation of ideals and stories surrounding their personal mental health. While these platforms can also be used to address very real issues, there is a developing culture of people self-diagnosing themselves and wanting to share it with the others, to either gain sympathy or attention.

An association developed with sad stories of depression or images of self-harm and an increased popularity online. Mental illness is beginning to be viewed as “beautiful”, a message of glorifying illness. Mental health has becoming fetishized with characters such as Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory becoming more lovable and entertaining because of his struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These depictions in pop culture have stripped illnesses of their serious nature. Mental health problems have thus become something that many wish they have, in hopes of gaining the attention or relationships they see on television or online.

The romanticization of mental illness is extraordinarily dangerous in modern society. Images of illness or self-harm can encourage self-destructive behavior. People have varying reactions to these images, yet the chances that they have a negative effect is extremely frightening.

Mental health awareness is an incredible deed, yet glamorizing illness is another story. It is good to celebrate awareness and strength, but not encourage destructive behavior. Pop culture has created a new environment for mental awareness, by romanticizing it, which loses some of its sensitivity for the subject. As Jayden Hawley (10) puts it, “It is just important that everyone is healthy and safe. That’s all that really matters.” A focus needs to be centered around health and safety, not harm and destruction.