The recent video on depression, ‘DobaraPoocho‘, by The Live Love Laugh Foundation has garnered a lot of attention from media and viewers. It is a tremendous effort in the direction of raising awareness about depression. But while this video had a positive and straightforward viewpoint towards mental illness, popular youth and media today is increasingly leaning towards romanticising the very idea of mental illness.
We seem to have moved on from “You aren’t depressed, snap out of it!” to “You are depressed? Oh, me too!” and “Oh you are suicidal? Yeah, it feels like I want this dark abyss to swallow me too.”
Art and poetry work by popular content producing websites like Terribly Tiny Tales, Berlin Art Parasites and Tumblr look at people having mental illness as these poetic and inspiring humans who should be put up on a pedestal and admired.
An article on Youth Ki Awaaz raises these questions. “It can be argued that when so much beauty is associated with a disease, it becomes romanticised. Instead of realising the harshness of the suffering, the pain becomes desirable, and when something is so desirable, why would you try to get rid of it?” This paradox of a ‘desirable suffering’ embodies the romantic notion of a mental illness.
I’m not saying that people suffering from mental illness shouldn’t be admired, thought of as beautiful or shouldn’t be appreciated for their struggle. What I am saying is that people who are suffering from a mental illness should not be admired or called beautiful because of their illness. It gives one the feeling that it is ‘cool’ or ‘beautiful’ to have a mental illness.
The support should be in the form of supporting or admiring someone despite their condition. Romanticising the condition sends out the message that the person is admired or appreciated because of the disease. It links the concept of ‘fitting in’ to being mentally unstable and perpetuates the idea of mental illness being a medium through which one will be adored or accepted, which is not true.
Those actually suffering from mental diseases have something very different to say in response to the heroic celebrations of mental illness on social media posts. Here’s one account by Bri Ray on elitedaily.com
“I began taking 60 mg of Prozac a day and I started along my road to recovery…
…Trust me, they’re not, and they’re not romantic either. It’s not glamorous to think of ending your own life, and it’s not romantic to harm your body or starve yourself…My anxiety causes me actual pain; it leads me to pick the skin around my fingernails…
…My roommates caught me trying to purge once and threatened to call my parents in order to have me admitted to a psychiatric ward because I just couldn’t stop…
…Do you think it’s romantic to be used to significant others regularly leaving your life? You can’t blame them either; it’s hard to always be on an emotional roller coaster…”
Not that poetic and beautiful now, is it?
While one has to appreciate and admire her courage and strength for confessing and trying to overcome the illness, one needs to remember that she should not be admired for being diagnosed with mental illness.
Besides perpetuating wrong notions about mental disorders, it also trivialises them. Trivialising mental illness, in my opinion, seems to be as much of a 21st-century phenomenon as romanticising them. My psychology teacher and friends studying psychology often chide people who say “I feel depressed today.” And they have a very valid and logical argument to the said phrase—“You don’t say you feel diabetic or cancerous today do you?” Their point here is simple and logical, mental illness is as much of an illness as a physical one, if not more. Sometime you can mend your broken arm or recover from the flu, but there is no guarantee if you will ever fully recover from depression.
Coming back to the original argument, using words like ‘depressed’ in one’s daily vocabulary as adjectives for one’s mood is definitely very problematic. It not only trivialises the burden and struggle that a single word carries, but is also an insult to those going through that struggle.
Besides trivialisation, romanticising something like suicide sends out a wrong message to someone on the verge of committing it. As Marcella Rick writes on thetab.com
“Picture this: you’re young, deeply depressed and lonely; you log onto social media looking for some help, someone to talk to, and you’re greeted with a post like this one. Posts that make suicide look like some kind of beautiful and tragic art form, and it makes you feel like maybe this is a valid possibility, a solution to your problems.”
Media is waking up to the reality of mental illness but it is also necessary that we wake up to it in an alert, aware and correct manner. Instead of raising mental illness on a pedestal and romanticising it into something meant for poetry, art and movies because of our misplaced understanding of ‘beauty’, as it is not the right way to go. It’s essential that we as a society bring it down from the pedestal and look at it in the eye. Maybe it’s time we love and admire people despite having mental illness and not because of it.