Lately I’ve noticed a trend. While we are moving away from stigmatizing mental illness (and this is great!) there seems to be a movement pushing too far in the other direction. In certain circles mental illness is being depicted as beautiful, glamorous, or romantic. As if being labeled as “depressed” or “anxious,” is something to aspire to. There are entire online communities dedicated to this depiction of mental illness – search tumblr for ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ and you’ll find pages upon pages of posts dedicated to these topics.
Quotes or phrases depicting depression, self-harm, suicide, laid over images that evoke a sort of glamour, turning otherwise very difficult experiences into romantic emotional states. I fully acknowledge that there’s comfort in knowing other people feel the way you do and this can be a space to find relief, comfort, and support. While it is great to be able to find community and support at your fingertips, if consumption of these images goes unchecked it can begin to reinforce itself. The message that ‘suffering is glamorous’ turns mental illness into something romantic when it most certainly is not.
To add to this confusion is the way mental health diagnoses have become part of everyday language. Comments like “That was so OCD,” “I failed my exam, I’m so depressed,” “I couldn’t sleep last night, I’m such an insomniac” get thrown around with such frequency we are growing numb to the true realities mental illness. This mixture, simultaneously romanticizing and trivializing mental illness, personally leaves me reeling. It is creating a culture of young folks (especially) that are wholly confused. What is mental illness vs. just a bad feeling? When my friend says "they're so depressed" are they really? Would I be more interesting or legitimate if I had a diagnosis? Is it cool to be depressed?
As a Mental Health Therapist I consider diagnosis to be a piece of the puzzle, something to guide our work together, but I caution against over-identifying with a diagnosis or holding on too tightly. A diagnosis is a snapshot of a moment in time. It is part of your present experience, but it does not need to define you. And guess what! Even if you don't meet the criteria for a diagnosis your feelings, experience, and worldview still matter. Your suffering is still real and if you need support, seek it out. If you're confused or unsure whether what you are feeling might qualify as a mental illness reach out to a school counselor or therapist in your community and let them know what's on your mind. Regardless of the 'official' outcome, your feelings matter and there are folks who see you and want to help.
As an aside, I was jazzed to see this pop up while I searched tumblr for things like "depression" and "suicide." It's great to see tumblr acknowledging the pain of its users and encouraging them to seek professional help outside of the online community. Way to go tumblr!