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The Romanticism of Mental Health

Is Monica Geller’s habits of excessive cleaning simply cute or are they problematic in the bigger picture? Read more to find out.

(TW: self-harm, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses.)

Mental illnesses no longer receive the same degree of scandalous responses as they did a few years ago. This is owed to the growing discourse around them and even due to films like Dear Zindagi, boldly representing the ideas perceived in society as a taboo. While this growing discourse aims to destigmatise it, a trend of ‘romanticising’ mental illnesses is now on a rise.

Image credits: Twitter

Image credits: Twitter

This wrongful act involves beautification of mental disorders often seen in posts describing self-harm as ‘tragically beautiful’ or art. Another example would be, the parallels drawn between Monica Geller’s “cute” passion for cleaning and organising and the behaviour of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mental disorder. Memes on social anxiety carry the tag of being ‘cool’. Ideas like “social awkwardness is cute” are highly popularised. Depression is reduced to being “emo” and wearing black outfits. Responses like “I relate” to memes with underlying tones of mental illnesses have become immediate reactions by people.

Image credits: Odyssey

Image credits: Odyssey

Devyani Mahajan, a 2nd year Psychology student comments, “It (mental illness) is romanticised today in pop-culture which ends up making anxiety, depression and many more into badly executed graphic t-shirts, posters, and commercial art. Hustle (read: drowning yourself in stress) is the new cool.”

There exists a fine line between normalising this issue and falsely representing it. Savannah Brown, spoken word poet, identifies the source of this as Tumblr in a Youtube video. Although the influence has spread to other social media platforms as well. She further says, “People were tagging things like proana which is proanorexia… which is obscene because it is not just romanticising an illness but also making it out to be a good thing. It’s literally saying that this is something you should strive to be.” while referring to tags on social media platforms campaigning for eating disorders.

These connotations and misrepresentations of mental illnesses have led to several problematic consequences. Firstly, it trivialises the gravity of mental illnesses and the sufferings of the people who have them. The pain and agony are depicted in pop-culture as quirky or ‘relatable’ and thus reducing it to mere traits or habits every individual has. This creates a single and incorrect narrative of what comprises of that illness. This is sickening and reflects an extreme lack of sensitivity towards those who have gone or are going through it. Secondly, it creates this hierarchy where some illnesses hold aspirational value subsequently relegating others like Bipolar Disorder to the background.

Sanjula Gupta, a first year student of Psychology at Kamala Nehru College remarks, “The very fact that artists’ work is attributed to their mental illness and how Van Gogh’s Starry Night is romanticised, is a clear example of how we lack sensitivity when it comes to portrayal of mental illness and the narrative surrounding it”.

A post on Tumblr reads, “pretty girls don’t eat”, keeping in mind that the growing use of these platforms is by teenagers and young-adults, such posts can have devastating effects. This becomes the third problem accruing. What is necessary is a true representation and an end to it being glamourised. Using creative freedom comes with sets of responsibility to be met. Mental health is no joke and requires the utmost level of carefulness. With today’s culture of trends and easy access to the internet and all its content, it becomes each individual’s prerogative to make careful judgements of what they see and what they spread.

Image Credits: Medium

Shivani Dadhwal

shivani.dadhwal24@gmail.com




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