June 6th 2018
Romanticizing, dramatizing, misrepresenting, and other toxic things the media are doing to mental illness.
Mental Illness, something that many experience and few understand. Whether or not you have a mental illness personally or even know someone who does, you have probably be exposed to certain forms of media throughout your life that has portrayed a depiction (accurate or not) of someone with a mental illness. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, OCD, and more have been portrayed on the big screen, in fashion, and in literature for years, both well and poorly.
That being said, I wanted to take some time out to talk a little about how the inaccurate depictions of mental illnesses in the media, on social media and in fashion can have negative impacts on the mental stability of those suffering with mental illnesses.
Romanticizing- What does it mean to romanticize or glamorize a mental illness? Essentially it is finding a way to take a mental illness and give it qualities that almost seem desirable. For example, a movie about a young boy who falls in love with a depressed girl and says he wants to help “put her back together.” Or a TV show about a quirky girl with OCD that everyone finds laughable and charming. Real life isn’t like that and the people suffering with these illnesses are not suffering with them to gain affection or attention. By making mental illness “trendy” more people want to conform.
I was going to write a full post just about this tweet but decided against it because I wasn’t in the right head space for it before, but I think this is a good place to bring it up. I want to start off by saying, I respect Niki DeMartino and this isn’t intended to be an attack on her character but this tweet left a bad taste in my mouth. The use of a mental illness that I and many others struggle with, herself included, to get retweets on twitter really struck me the wrong way. I really felt it sent the wrong message to viewers. I even saw responses to her tweet saying “I don’t know much about anxiety, but I probably have it.” Making anxiety and other mental illnesses an excuse to be “relatable” masks the issues at hand and hurts people who are genuinely suffering.
Mental illness glamorization in fashion has become a huge issue as well. Shirts promoting eating disorders, making depression abstract, and anxiety funny are not what people need. And charging people upwards of $50 to wear their disorder around their neck is not only disgusting but counterproductive. We should not be promoting the embodiment of labels but instead rising above stigmas in spite of illness.
Dramatizing (or Downplaying)- I find that TV does a really nifty job portraying mental illness (in full sarcasm). MTV actually put together a nice list of times TV got mental illness wrong but, to sum it up really simply, a lot of TV shows portray mental illnesses to be something you just “get over” on your own, usually as a one r two episode character story arch. This happens a lot in teen programming particularly which I feel is even more worrisome. A good way to see this kind of stuff in a more humorous and satirical light is through Funny or Die’s series A Very Special Episode where they poke a little fun at how old family sitcoms poorly portray serious topics, some being mental illness (but they can be a little less than PC at times so be warned).
Another problem in terms of dramatization is the fact that many shows portray mentally ill people as dangerous or peculiar. Essentially they make the mentally ill character a creep or a criminal or someone you just want to avoid when in reality that is so untrue. I think that a YouTuber named Grace Niccole spoke about this really well in her video discussing her experiences with Schizophrenia where she addresses a lot of stigmas experienced by Schizophrenics. Schizophrenics are often portrayed by the media to be crazy people who talk to people in their own head and hallucinate 24/7, but the disorder is a lot more complex than how it is portrayed on TV and the behaviors are often dramatized on TV for “impact”.
Misrepresenting- The Schizophrenia example sort of lends itself well here also, but aside from that, I feel like eating disorders, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD and OCD are often misrepresented in mainstream media. For example, in many shows, eating disorders are when a character doesn’t eat for a few days before they are just fine again with very little intervention or they are a skin and bones character that looks like they haven’t eaten in a year for dramatic effect. Anxiety is often portrayed as a quirky character who wheezes and faints at the slightest bit of over-stimulation and depression is the emo kid who doesn’t talk to anyone. ADD/ADHD is depicted as someone who gets distracted by silly things like squirrels or random things on TV and is over-acted to be excessively hyper. OCD is that really organized character that just likes order and doesn’t like germs.
TV shows and movies add these labels to normal human qualities to create some weird caricature of what mental illness is really like. People with eating disorders aren’t cured in a day and aren’t always skin and bones. Anxiety isn’t jumping when someone taps you on your shoulder or fainting before a big test. Depression isn’t being sad and emo in the corner. ADD/ADHD is not like being a crack squirrel. And OCD isn’t just liking your space tidy.
The faster we can change the conversation about how we, along with the media and fashion, portray mental illness, the faster we can start making real changes. For starters, Here is a list Buzzfeed made about shows that got Mental Illness right. I can’t speak for their list honestly because I haven’t watched many of the shows, but they are definitely something to consider.
Disclaimer: Please note that my opinions are just opinions and what bothers me doesn’t necessarily have to bother you too. This was just a post for me to express what I personally find wrong in how we portray mental illness in the media and as a society as a whole. No hate, just love:)