Tap, tap, tap. Somewhere in the world, a woman taps repeatedly on a table, thinking it will save her family if she does it the correct number of times. A boy stares at the mirror and wishes to see his ribcage better, wishes to not be hungry so he wouldn’t eat. Somewhere else, a girl’s wrists burn in the shower and a different girl is throwing up for the second time today, running the sink water to flush out the noise. A man can’t distinguish between reality and the tricks his mind plays on him, while a boy is planning his suicide with sleeping pills. A teen craves the feeling of numbness from tequila and the euphoria of heroin. Every single one of these people is suffering because of their mental illness and wants “normality”, so why are these traumatizing diseases being romanticized?
The answer to this question lies in music, television, social media, etc. Many artists sing about dark themes, but Lana del Rey, in particular, references drug use and alcoholism in her songs, which has resulted in impressionable young girls viewing this as a blueprint on how to behave. Her songs are enchanting with well-written lyrics, but they should not be seen as something to imitate. Struggles with alcohol and drugs are not glamourous, contrary to the media’s misleading depiction of it. Additionally, in the popular UK drama, Skins, one of the protagonists, Effy Stonem is dealing with psychotic depression, in addition to using drugs and drinking excessively. The character, Cassie Ainsworth, also has had experience drinking too much and using drugs, as well as struggling with an eating disorder. Despite the fact that these teen girls are dealing with so much internal agony, people are idolizing them, trying to be like them. On the popular app, TikTok, girls were posting videos with Lana del Rey songs with the theme of having a mental breakdown, turning it into an aesthetic of messy eyeliner, tangled hair, and of course, mental illness. This is extremely problematic for a few reasons. First, it’s hard enough for people trying to deal with their illness without society glorifying it. And second, the way it is being shown is insultingly utopian, compared to how it really is.
The real problem with the romanticization of mental illness is not so much the viewer or reader’s perception of it, but how it is depicted by the media. Psychosis, alcohol and drug addiction, depression, eating disorders, and so many other illnesses are being represented inaccurately, showing them as “imperfectly perfect” and beautiful, which is completely unrealistic. This leads to misconceptions of what they are really like and leads people to romanticize them. This is wrong because they are legitimate issues, not personality traits or an aesthetic to adopt. People that struggle with mental illnesses have to cope with unenviable problems, such as intrusive thoughts, side effects of medication, being told that “it’s all in their head” and “just for attention”, and so much more. Romanticizing it does not help anyone, not the people just trying to get better, not the people fooled into believing it is glamorous or appealing, nobody.