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Does Social Media Glorify Mental Illness?

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Over the years, social media has not only become a part of our day, but it has also come a part of our very being. A millennial in today’s world usually spends an average of 10 hours per day on their screen, where more than half of the time spent is on social media. Initially, social media was primarily used as a network-based model of communication. One could connect with individuals sitting on the other corner of the world. There has been a rise in e-commerce, social media gained more than just it’s networking and entertainment value. It has become an indispensable tool for businesses and advertisers. Along with that, young adults have now started using these online platforms to share their personal stories or speak against the injustices embedded in our society. While social media’s positive side is credible, we tend to get consumed by this virtual world and often forget the situation’s reality. On the one hand, young adults seek refuge by making it a safe space and promoting mental health awareness. In contrast, is it okay to spread false information and romanticize mental illnesses to the point that young impressionable minds think ‘pain is beautiful’?

“Sick of crying, tired of trying. Yeah, I am smiling, but inside I am dying”. The lack and cry for mental health awareness have pulled us in a situation where people have begun to glorify and romanticize the problem in itself. Instagram and Tumblr now have countless posts, with raw quotes regarding mental health written in a fancy cursive font plastered on top of scenic pictures. Depression refers to a mental health disorder characterized by depressed mood and loss of interest in activities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Poetic seeming posts with captions such as ‘Imagine death. No people, no feelings. Only a peaceful dark world’ found on Tumblr using ‘#depression’ #depressingquotes’ creates a false illusion about death and mental illnesses. There is nothing artistic about a mental illness such as depression, so why romanticize it?

Similarly, eating disorders such as ‘Anorexia Nervosa’ refer to distorted body image and unwarranted fear of being over-weight, causing the individual to starve or indulge in over-exercise. Hashtags such as #anorexia are excessively used on social media with posts titled ‘starving makes me happier than you do’. Skipping a meal does not mean one is suffering from a severe eating disorder such as Anorexia. It is deeper than that and patients receive long-term treatment for the same. Another such example of social media glorifying mental illnesses is regarding self-harm and suicide. Tumblr and Instagram have an endless list of ‘artsy’ images as girls commit self-harm with blades and scars covering their arms. Along with the red of their blood, they ‘decorate’ the image with beautiful petals and flowers to view ‘pain as beautiful’ and make suicide seem ‘graceful’. This glorification of severe mental illnesses encourages suicide and self-harm by portraying it as a ‘pretty picture’, instead of encouraging individuals to seek professional help.

Spreading awareness about mental illnesses on social media platforms is of extreme importance and sharing stories to uplift those suffer leaves a positive mark on society. This being said, romanticizing mental illnesses gives a false perception of today’s youth. It is something that you must consciously steer away from. Here are a few suggestions of how you can avoid glorifying mental illnesses on social media:

  1. Follow the guidelines provided by the American Psychological Association (APA). When spreading awareness regarding mental illnesses or suicide, remember to follow the guidelines by Suicide Prevention or APA to spread awareness from a credible source by being factually correct and avoiding false information.

  2. Practice Effective Storytelling. Sharing your personal mental health journey is an effective storytelling method to spread awareness and make others feel understood and less alone. However, such stories should focus on seeking help, rather than the act itself. Remember to avoid using flowery language or deem mental illnesses as ‘beautiful’ instead of sharing the disorders’ facts and downsides by being as blunt as possible.

  3. Encourage People to Seek Help. While talking about mental health online, make sure you remember to encourage people to seek professional help. Young individuals with impressionable minds may misinterpret the internet cues and believe that suffering from a mental illness makes them ‘cool’ or ‘popular’. It is imperative to promote professional help so that people with mental illnesses avoid self-diagnosis and seek appropriate treatment.

Misusing social media is a flaw in our society. However, it is in our hands to change it. On the one hand, it does a great job in de-stigmatizing mental health. On the other hand, it plays a considerable role in romanticizing and glorifying it. Spreading awareness and having open conversations regarding it is essential. However, we must stop trivializing mental health. Stage fright is NOT panic attacks. Being organized is NOT OCD and suffering from an anxiety disorder is definitely NOT something ‘quirky’ or ‘glamorous’. Mental illness inflicts pain and suffering on the individual as well as families. Therefore, mental illnesses are NOT art.

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