BY RAMEEN GONDAL
Generation Z has made it clear they consider themselves to be one of the, if not the most open-minded generation. This is unsurprising as they’ve grown up in the era of technology, with vast information at their fingertips.
This has exposed them to a variety of different perspectives on issues at early ages, making them more likely to openly discuss them. More specifically, Gen Z has widened the gap between mental health and stigmatization, and they are 27% more likely to report on their mental health being fair or poor (Bethune). While this destigmatization of mental health is a huge step forward, it has also resulted in a new problem: the romanticization of mental illness. For many, the internet has become a way to cope with their mental illness and this has allowed more open discourse on subjects such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. However, the internet has also festered a place for people to romanticize mental illness. In the early 2010s, Tumblr became a hotspot for pro-eating disorder discourse and pro-self harm posts. There was a sense of competition between the teenagers on Tumblr to see who was the thinnest and who self harmed the most; essentially it was a competition of who was the most mentally ill. This sense of competitiveness stemmed from the notion of ‘tragic beauty’ which was arguably very popular at the time, and still is to an extent. As an article from The Meadow Glade states
A quick scroll through social media these days will reveal countless cryptic messages with beautiful images attached making statements about feeling depressed. It all adds up to an image of mental illness as a sexy mindset – as if sufferers are so broody and deep that everybody will fall in love with them. For some, claiming to have a mental health problem replaces needing to develop a personality, while conversely, those who actually suffer are becoming increasingly reclusive and embarrassed about speaking out. (Are You Romanticizing Bad Mental Health?)
Mental illness isn’t a personality trait nor does it make sufferers appear desirable and seductive. Romanticizing it downplays the struggles of those who have to live with mental illnesses and makes it harder for them to be taken seriously and get help. Furthermore, normalizing the romanticization of mental illness makes sufferers less likely to seek out help and get better because society has normalized their suffering. It’s important to be mindful of whether or not you are romanticizing mental illness. The Meadow Glade states,
If you’re saying that you’re depressed just because someone hasn’t replied to your text message fast enough, or you’re stating that you’re suffering from anxiety because you’re suffering from stage fright, you should think about how that impacts people around you with those disorders who often don’t feel comfortable talking so casually about what they’re going through. (Are You Romanticizing Bad Mental Health?)
This casualness in the way people attribute mental illness to normal things in their lives is damaging to those who actually suffer with mental illness. It leads to conversations about mental health being taken far less seriously and drowns out the struggles of people with actual mental illnesses. This casualness stems from the romanticization seen on sites such as Tumblr, as people desire to relate to these ‘brooding and deep’ types of people. Make sure you are not viewing mental illness as an accessory to your persona and are actually understanding what mental illness entails. Furthermore, be mindful of the media you consume and how accurately, if at all accurately, it portrays mental illness. While progress in the destigmazitation of mental illness is cause for celebration, it is important to moderate the extent of this progress, as it can quickly derail into something that ends up harming those with mental illnesses more than it helps them.
Bethune, Sophie. “Gen Z More Likely to Report Mental Health Concerns.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Jan. 2019, www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z.
“Are You Romanticizing Bad Mental Health?” The Meadow Glade,