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    Are You Romanticising Mental Health Issues?

    By Dr. Swati Jain
    5 May'22  8 min read
    Are You Romanticising Mental Health Issues?
    Synopsis

    With growing awareness about mental health, there is also greater romanticising of it. These days it is not uncommon for people, especially teens, to think of having depression as being ‘tragically beautiful’ and creating Instagram accounts with names that portray mental health issues as cool and unique. This article talks about the harms of romanticising mental health issues, and how one can stop doing that.

    Are You Romanticising Mental Health Issues?
    Synopsis

    With growing awareness about mental health, there is also greater romanticising of it. These days it is not uncommon for people, especially teens, to think of having depression as being ‘tragically beautiful’ and creating Instagram accounts with names that portray mental health issues as cool and unique. This article talks about the harms of romanticising mental health issues, and how one can stop doing that.

    Until only sometime back, people found it difficult to share even with their loved ones that they had anxiety or depression. Mental health issues were stigmatised. To avoid facing the negative attitudes of people and for the fear of being labelled, people would refrain from visiting a mental health professional. They would disregard and suppress their feelings, and carry on with their daily routine.

    However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought mental well-being to the fore. To acknowledge the heavy toll that the pandemic has had on the mental health of individuals, mental health also found a mention in the Union Budget 2022.

    With Awareness, Comes Sensationalisation

    With the increased focus on mental health globally, mental health experts have been trying to break down the barriers around it by challenging the stigma attached to it. Therefore, in recent times, more and more people have been opening up about their mental health difficulties, at least to their families and friends. This is good news, as this makes people more likely to seek help at the right time. However, the increased recognition of mental health issues has also had some pitfalls, like the growing sensationalisation and romanticisation of mental illness.

    Have you ever said or heard your friend saying, “Oh! I’m so anxious about my career, I think I am going to get a panic attack.” If you have ever said or heard something similar to this, you need to ask yourself if it really is anxiety, or is it a mere feeling of nervousness. You can cross-check this by scrolling through the Snapchat and Instagram feeds of your peers and noting how many times someone has mentioned that they are “depressed”.

    The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria to diagnose depression or major depressive disorder. To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a person must be markedly depressed, or lose interest in formerly pleasurable activities, or both, for at least two weeks. Other symptoms, such as changes in sleep or appetite, or feelings of worthlessness, must also be present. So, why is it that one labels themselves as being depressed, and why is it that people not only normalise this but also embrace it?

    Media’s Portrayal Of Mental Health

    The portrayal of mental health difficulties in the media is often inaccurate and misrepresented. Television shows like “13 Reasons Why” have been criticised for showcasing suicide as a revenge fantasy. The way news channels have sensationalised celebrity suicides is, in a way, problematic.

    Social media networks have become a hub for the romanticisation of mental health difficulties for young people. Reddit is a social media platform founded in 2005. Its unique selling proposition is that users do not require an email address to register, which provides for user anonymity. This gives the users a platform to interact with people who they do not know in real life, and discuss various areas of interest by creating ‘subreddits’. Some of these subreddits are buzzing with content and discussions around mental health. Though these platforms have helped foster community support for individuals with mental health difficulties, mental health issues have been normalised and gained importance as a trend that is sought-after for popularity.

    Also Read | Pros And Cons Of Social Media For Your Child: Know Where To Draw The Line

    Are You Romanticising Mental Health Issues?

    Romanticising and sensationalising mental health difficulties can be harmful, particularly for teens, as the plethora of information they are exposed to leaves quite an impression on them. Today, if one has anxiety or depression or any other mental health issue, it is almost equivalent to being popular. Mental health issues are often internalised and therapy is seen as bogus.

    Things Get Tougher For Those Actually Suffering

    romanticising, romanticising mental illness on social media, Romanticising mental illness, romanticising mental issues, depression, mental health issues, mental health professional, anxiety, social media, reddit, therapy, awarenessMental Health Issues Shouldn't Be Taken Lightly

    One needs to understand that mental health issues are real and can be difficult for people experiencing them, as well as their families. However, younglings often end up thinking that being anxious is cute, and one is “tragically beautiful” if they have body image issues, or an eating disorder. People who may actually be experiencing these issues may find it even harder to disclose their disorder, as it may portray them to be special and as having a desirable personality trait. The glamorous portrayal of mental health issues distorts our perception of the illness and minimises the severity of the issues faced by people actually experiencing it. This not only invalidates the experiences of people, but also isolates them.

    Also Read | Balanced Diet, Nutrition For Children, Adolescents: What To Eat, How Much To Eat

    Consume Social Media Responsibly

    If you’ve heard yourself thinking or saying, “I am depressed, because I failed an exam” or “I have anxiety” when you are afraid to speak publicly, think of the impact it has on people around you who may actually have these disorders but find it difficult to talk about them. Similarly, “skipping a meal” or starving is neither anorexic nor fun, staying clean is not OCD, and a bad sleeping schedule is not insomnia.

    Today, it is cool to visit websites that publish quizzes about mental disorders. A high response on such a quiz is just a step away from declaring the person as having a mental health disorder. However, neither the internet nor social media can tell a person whether or not they have a psychological disorder. Many influencers post about mental health issues, so much so that their followers relate to their posts, experiences, and stories. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that you understand the difference between a diagnosed mental health issue and feeling a certain way.

    Falling Prey To Self-Diagnosis

    The romanticisation of mental health can mislead people into easy self-diagnosis. Instead of breaking the stigmas and barriers attached to mental health and support, romanticisation may multiply the prevalence of a misconstrued idea of mental health amongst people. Romanticising mental health issues distorts the actual issue and rather aggravates the trauma one may be going through. In case you think that you may be experiencing mental health difficulties, or a mental health issue is affecting your day-to-day life, you may need to see a mental health professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

    Signs You Should Seek Professional Help

    The American Psychiatric Association Foundation has identified certain signs and symptoms that can help one identify if they need to seek professional help.

    Changes In Appetite Or Sleep

    A sudden increase or decrease in appetite or sleeping pattern is a sign that should alert you. Mental health difficulties may affect your sleeping pattern, and a disrupted sleep pattern may further deteriorate mental health, so it may seem like a vicious cycle. Your appetite may change from time to time, but if a disruption in eating pattern does not resolve swiftly, you should assess the possibility of an underlying mental health issue.

    Changes In Mood

    Rapid and dramatic changes in emotions and feelings can be another sign of mental health problems. Persistent impatience or irritation may mean that something is bothering you. It may be a sign of depression or anxiety. If you ignore your mental health for too long, it may lead to burnout.

    Also Read | What Is Academic Burnout? Here Are Ways You Can Deal With It

    Withdrawal And Isolation

    omanticising, romanticising mental illness on social media, Romanticising mental illness, romanticising mental issues, depression, mental health issuesLoss Of Interest In Activities That Were Once Pleasurable Is A Sign You May Need Professional Help

    One may prefer solitude for some time as part of self-care. However, withdrawal from social settings and loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, such as sports, co-curriculars, etc. might be signs of an underlying mental health condition.

    Decreased Functioning

    Discouragement and disinterest in work may be signs of burnout. Just like emotional fatigue can affect our day-to-day lives in profound ways, a sudden and visible decline in performance at school, college, or work may be because of interference from some mental health issues.

    Difficulty In Concentration

    It is normal to experience difficulty in focusing on your work on some days. However, persistent troubles in concentrating, memorising, or organising logical thoughts that are hard to explain could be a sign of mental health difficulties.

    In case you or someone you know are experiencing these red flags, it would be a good idea to seek help from a qualified and experienced mental health practitioner. Mild issues can be treated through therapy and a few meetings with the therapist, while issues that are a little severe in nature may be treated with a combination of mild medication and therapy.

    Also Read | How To Identify Depression: Know When To Seek Help

    In general, as aware citizens, you should try and gather basic awareness about mental health from reliable sources, for instance, social media pages of mental health professionals or organisations that are known and established, following blogs of mental health experts, reading from the internet but ensuring that you read about one theme from multiple web sources in order to be sure about its authenticity and credibility. Awareness will help you refrain from romanticising mental health issues, and also understand better when you or someone close to you may need help.

    Read More | Anxiety And Depression In Children: Preventive And Remedial Strategies

    Dr. Swati Jain is a Psychometrician, Creative Arts Therapist, and Rehabilitation Therapist. She has been teaching Psychology to UG students for close to a decade, and is currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University.

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