How harmful is the growing cult of self diagnosed patients succumbing to the media romanticization of mental illness?
The modern media is the perfect portrayal of how we want our lives to be. Social media is a partial presentation of our lives, a scripted version of what we want others to see, but when other people post the highlights of their own lives we can’t handle the feeling of inferiority. Blogs write inspirational quotes to make people feel less alone, but in doing that trivialize struggles. Television shows are the worst, they take our hopes and ideals and use characters to emanate those things so we begin worshipping them. Then in an effort to make these characters seem relatable, writers try and give them flaws. However, these flaws never truly serve their purpose because no one is watching television to watch a life going as wrong as their own. The solution; romanticising their struggles. “Romanticizing is the construction of an idea that makes it more appealing than what it really is.” and that’s exactly what is done. Broken characters are delineated as beautiful, talented and everything we want for ourselves and they inspire us to emulate them.
Teenage girls are possibly the most insecure people in the world. It can come across as almost comforting to them when they see the media ‘it girls’ had the same insecurities which they got past to turn into the sensational personalities we want to imitate. With audiences Hyper-focused on an electrifying plot, it is ignored how harmful writers are in propagating the idea that these girls gained popularity and perfect bodies by making themselves sick. Bulimia is perceived as an alluring way of avoiding potion control because television characters stayed thin, healthy and beautiful while simultaneously purging their food. Why should any girl think about swollen glands, intestinal problems, tooth decay and throat aches when to them Bulimia is associated with the Queen Bees of their favorite shows who were sympathised with and adored because of their ‘struggle?’ Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl are two of the most popular shows for teenage girls. Hanna Marin and Blair Waldorf are characters that are the embodiment of what teenage girls dream of being, both girls used bulimia to become the fashion icons we look up to. The shows are profiting from a message that it is okay to develop an eating disorder because the ‘it girls’ from your favorite television dealt with that and emerged thin and more beautiful than ever.
A hunger for words of affirmation is the start of the victim complex invoked in young adults. Insecurity craves reassurance. “Tell me I’m pretty. Tell me you want me around. Tell me I’m enough.” A lack of constant reassurance sends teenagers into a downward spiral. Feeling misunderstood and unappreciated teenagers turn to Netflix for solace amongst characters their own age. Shows like “13 Reasons Why,” are all too inviting to a teenager on a bad day. Who wouldn’t get absorbed in a story of a tragic heroine who took her own life and left behind tapes as revenge? We watch as the people who are the so called ‘reasons’ for the protagonists suicide begin obsessing over the girl who left them behind. “Is suicide the way to grab everyone’s attention?” one thinks. We watch an entire town obsess over a girl who seemed so insignificant in the past. We watch this girl get ‘justice’ as a beautiful heroine. You don’t get any more tragic than a charming dead teenager speaking from beyond the grave about everyone who hurt her. Suicide is presented as the ‘best’ option in this show, in some ways the script almost encourages by romantisizing the pain left behind.
It's alarming that an insurmountable amount of teens see mental illness as a means to glorify themselves while unintentionally trivializing the repercussions. It facilitates a society in which songs of misery and dejection are so hauntingly beautiful that one manifests a situation to relate to them. Having a mental disorder distinguishes one from the crowd, and that unique feeling makes us idealise ourselves. It is vital that the youth understands you aren’t depressed just because you had a bad day. You aren’t bipolar because you experience multiple emotions throughout the day. Stage fright does not equate with anxiety disorder. It is shocking how underplayed these situations are and we must not generalise them or exaggerate our own situations. The youth is far more underexposed to the implications of mental illness than we as such a ‘woke’ generation would like to believe. With the media being our primary form of exposure it is incredibly salient that adults recognise the responsibility they carry
We are told to help others seek help but with the media romanticising mental illness its becoming harder to discover genuine cases. Suddenly everyone who is talking about their self-inflicted struggles are blocking out those who really are suffering. This era of modern media appears to prioritize profiting off a television series over the lives of impressionable adolescents. In an attempt to normalise talking about mental illness we have found ways to generalise it. Mental illness in the way it is being portrayed in the media lures us with a synonymous feeling between beauty and torment.
Anorexia isn’t a slender beautiful girl refusing to eat; its hair loss, a messed up menstrual cycle, a shivering body and malnutrition. It’s not choosing not to eat, it is believing you cannot eat. Bulimia isn’t eating to your heart's content and getting rid of the calories, its throat pains and stomach acids. Depression is not listening to sad songs and crying in the shower. It’s spending days on end feeling like you have no purpose and possibly not finding the motivation to even get up and shower. Self harm doesn’t mean people will kiss your wrists and assure you that they love you, it’s scars that won’t leave and possible numbness in your arm. The media plays to a narrative that tells us that everything that's broken is beautiful but what we hear tells us we need to break ourselves to be beautiful.