Mental health is a difficult world for everyone. Whether you're a sufferer, a friend trying to understand, a teacher wondering how to introduce your lesson, a doctor trying to decide on a diagnosis or simply a campaigner trying to reduce stigma, it's a chasm of chaos.
Romanticisation used to be simple. You’d go and watch a play, for example “Romeo and Juliet.” The suicide scene came on between the two lovers and you knew it was romanticisation. But that’s okay, it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to show how overpowered by love Romeo had become and how he could not imagine his life without the “apple of his eye”. But what about when it floods in to reallife? What about when we romanticise real suicides from real people?
Mental health issues aren’t a story. They aren’t made up by an author. They are palpable pain and they continuously ruin lives. So why, as a generation, do we make them out as fairy stories? Why is Tumblr filled with emaciated young girls wearing flower crowns, laughing, having fun, hashtaged with “thinspo” as if the fact that they haven’t eaten a meal in over a week is a positive. As if to suggest not eating is the only way to have a happy ending. Panic attacks? Oh yes, everyone wants one of them! They’re so cute, I LOVE being feeling so overwhelmed my body shuts down and I feel fully out of control. You stayed up until 5am writing that essay…I bet you suffer from insomnia, you must be SO CLEVER. You’re depressed? Oh wow that’s hauntingly beautiful. Those cuts are so artistic, I wish I could decorate my body as prettily as you.
I hope you read the above paragraph and thought “How could you say that?”, because I know every time I read a comment like that or a quote on Tumblr or a retweet on Twitter I want to scream you are incredibly fallacious. Romanticisation of mental illness is a horrendous attempt to make them “beautiful”. I am unsure whether this stemmed from trying to destigmatise it or whether it came from the Tumblr blogs made to connect with people in similar situations. It has created a kind of “Sad Girls Club” that is nothing but toxic. Why? Because just like the name suggests they are illnesses. They hurt and they harm people on a daily basis and I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to portray this positively. Speaking out about mental health is incredibly brave but also exceedingly difficulty, yet others seem to view it as quirky and an “admirable” personality trait.
By making them out as something “cool” to have, you take the focus away from real sufferers. Self-harmers no longer receive help because their parents view it as a trend rather than a cry for help. Bulimics aren’t taken seriously because they can’t wrap their fingers around their non-delicate wrists. Depressed teenagers are just trying too hard to fit in so their doctor brushes away their concern about having not left their bedroom in over a month.
Suicidal students are being turned away by their teacher because who hasn’t tagged a friend in the “I want to die” Facebook meme. People aren’t receiving help because others are portraying it as ‘quirky’.
I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush. Some people who posts the quotes like “Suicidal people are angels who want to go home” are in desperate need of help. They want someone to see the word “Suicidal” and reach out because they don’t know how to reach out to anyone. They post pictures of girls who’s bones are sticking out with the caption “Goals” not for compliments, but for support. I urge that if you ever see a post like this from a friend, don’t assume their doing it for sympathy or attention or just to be “trendy”. DO reach out. ASK. Just make sure they’re alright.
On the flip side, sadly, people do post these for the wrong kind of attention. They think it will get them more friends, more support. They are looking for sympathy but all they are doing is stigmatising an illness. Mental health does not work like these quotes suggest and the consequences are never beneficial. It isn’t covetable. It isn’t desirable. They add confusion to an already chaotic and sensitive subject. People are left with stereotypical ideas of what mental illness looks like and so they miss symptoms. They miss the chance to save a life. It also means more complex illnesses such as BPD, EUPD and other personality disorders are swept under the carpet. They’re viewed as “too real” and too raw. They’re too difficult to turn into a trendy Insta. Again, what does this do? Exclude real sufferers from receiving the real help they require.
Where the line of romanticisation often becomes a little blurred is within mental health awareness and education. It is often too easy to slip into the trap of storytelling. After all, the less “blunt” the article seems, the less likely people are to be put off by reading it. Why is that? Why do we feel we have to buy into writing in flowery language to talk about such a serious topic? It’s because people are still uncomfortable. People still don’t know how to handle it and so if we are blunt in our discussions, many switch off. Friends start to disappear, teachers become distant, parents get mad. You can feel the shift the minute you mention it. Although we have come a very long way, the stigma still remains. We need to open up the conversation. We need to be less airy-fairy and more blunt. We need to confront it head on, it’s the only way the issue will change. On the flip side, story-telling isn’t always bad. Poetic pieces can be hauntingly beautiful and for REAL sufferes of mental illness, these are the posts that are often more relatable. People who have written from the heart about their struggles.
Who have’t sugar-coated it, or portrayed it as desirable, but haven’t been so incredibly blunt that it sounds like your talking to a stranger. From experience, these are the articles that help real people the most. A friend once told me that my work was “beautifully harrowing and was the reason she told her Mum because she felt she could use my words to convey her point because before she’d been unsure”. It’s a fine line to walk but the key is to put a resolution. It often opens up conversation more effectively if it’s written creatively but still accurately. Rather than writing poetically about your struggles and leaving it in a pit of despair, write a resolution. Explain things that have helped you or things that you want to do to get better. Make it clear that although x isn’t great, y can make it better. It is okay to write creatively so long as it is still real. This is always a line that people will disagree with. Some people will think your creativity is romanticisation whilst others will see it as the harsh reality of day-to-day life put into less “harsh” words. Don’t let that put you off writing or talking though.
In summary, romancisation is a complex world.
Society has formed this ideal that mental illness is “beautiful”, “trendy” and “wanted”. They think it will bring them attention and sympathy and happiness. Let me correct you there, it’ll do anything but.
People don’t know how to handle mental health and real sufferers know how isolating an experience it can be. You might think people will pity you for your black and white post about self-harm but most will just become uncomfortable and label you as crazy or attention seeking. This is toxic as it desensitises the public to the idea, and then you don’t get help. I had people in my life who used to believe I did it for attention. I suppose I did, but for attention in the sense that I needed help…and this was the only way I knew. If this is you, please try and communicate in other ways. If someone reaches out after your post and asks if you’re okay, tell them no. Tell them you need help and something needs to change. If you can, speak to a parent or a teacher or a trusted friend. Write it down, poetically or not, if that makes reaching out easier.
Sadness isn’t beautiful and it doesn’t make you more attractive. No amount of pastel quotes on Instagram or artsy photos of pills on a plate or a gun shooting flowers will alter the fact that mental illness isn’t an art form that you can perfect. It is an experience that makes everyday painful. They are not an aesthetic. They’re tears, trauma, tantrums. They’re therapy, medication, suicidal thoughts, self-destruction. They’re losing all your motivation, losing your friends and family, messing up your education. They are a daily battle that feels impossible to win. Pain doesn’t equate to pretty.
ain equates to pain. Stop invalidating a real illness just because you want to be “on trend”. Stop contributing to an already toxic stigma.
Stop romanticising things that hurt the most.