“Suicidal people are just angels that want to go back home.”
“I like angels so much that I want to become one.”
“In a strange way, I had fallen in love with my depression.”
The stigma attached to mental health issues and illnesses doesn’t exist without reason. There are many factors that play a role in the reinforcement of this stigma. I have talked in length about how denial is a big issue and how depression is often seen as ‘western propaganda’.
Something I have not discussed too much is the issue of romanticising of mental illnesses. This majorly includes posts or quotes that make depression seem desirable and something that is ‘tragically beautiful’. In my experience, this is mostly seen on Tumblr or Reddit – and whatever’s going on in there is, let’s just say, dangerous.
When people decide to discuss their issues on social media, they can receive many different kinds of responses. Some of these responses may be of compassion and support (like a response I once got on Facebook), while others may be blunt and seemingly harsh.
Then, there is the third category of giving ‘no responses’, but giving only likes and shares. In this category, there will be no comments of support or mild scolding, but you can only see likes, hearts and shares. Now imagine that you posted something asking for help – and you got very few responses. But when you shared your scars or cuts after harming yourself, you got loads of shares and likes. Ask yourself one question – which thing are you going to share again? Will it be the call for help (which didn’t get responses) or will it be the post that shows that you are harming/have already harmed yourself?
Sites that allow anonymous posting mostly end up becoming group therapy sessions with no therapist to take charge of the situation. Here, you may find people suffering like you are – but it is highly likely that instead of improving your situation, it will end up becoming a constant, painful cycle of reinforcement.
This leads to people expressing their emotions and hardships which end up looking like an effort to romanticise the ordeals. However, it is important to note that the person may not be aware that they are romanticising something. Instead, they may feel that they are only sharing what they feel or think. Hence, it is important to deal with this situation sensitively.
When I started researching this issue on the internet, I came across many articles which pointed out how romanticising mental illnesses is bad. However, something that most (if not all) of these articles missed out on is the fact that the people who do it often aren’t consciously aware of it themselves. They don’t feel as though they are doing it on purpose. Ask people if they have romanticised mental illnesses – and I am sure most of them will say no, even though their actions may say otherwise.
When people say things like “Suicidal people are angels that want to go home”, we see it as something that constitutes uneasy romanticism. But the people who write and share these thoughts may be seeing it as something completely different.
If you tell people (or shout at them) to not romanticise mental illnesses, you are more likely to alienate them and make them more isolated. If results are to be obtained, it needs to be a compassionate and sensitive discussion. Again, this is not an ‘us vs. them’ fight. We can’t make a difference by silencing people we don’t agree with. We need to take them along with us on the road to recovery. Long rants, shouting or ignoring are not viable solutions; on the other hand, chatting, reaching out and being calm are.
So, the next time you feel someone is romanticising mental illnesses, don’t ignore them, don’t rant at them or don’t scold them. Instead, simply talk to them. Talk to them at a time when they would be comfortable, and then reach out. Do this calmly but assertively.
Those people need help as well – and it is our duty to at least try our best for them.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.