Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar disorder. Anorexia. These words have became subjects of everyday conversation, hyperbole or even humour. Wether you’ve heard it on the news or in passing conversation, everyone will be familiar with these terms; a massive development from even just a few years ago. But at what point does accepting and creating awareness of mental health issues become glamorisation and a plethora of false cases?
I am a massive advocate of mental health awareness. I have observed mental illness in many forms, in more than a few people I know. But, only in the past couple of years have I truly been able to reflect on my memories and think “so that was depression” or “that’s what anxiety looks like”. When I was younger, and less awake, I saw sadness in its truest form displayed through outbursts of anger, lack of motivation, jealousy and paranoia. I saw anxiety through overexaggeration, exhibitions of fear and social awkwardness. But did I understand it? No, and how could I? No one had told me that depression would affect those close to me. No one explained that the fear and the paranoia that I thought was crazy and even annoying was a deeply rooted anxiety issue that had to be treated with care. Today, the once taboo subject of mental illness has surfaced well above the water. Talking is encouraged, and empathy is paramount. The media, the Internet and general word of mouth has created a revelation of people knowing how to recognise the signs, how to treat those who’s mind is fragile, and critically: how to understand.
But what are the implications?
The past two years have stood out to me as years where I and the majority of people I know have been affected in some shape or form by mental health. Think to yourself, do you know someone suffering? The answer is probably yes.
In response, the past two years have also been flooded with people opening up about their experiences, and I believe social media has become a platform for people to educate one another and converse about the subject freely without judgement, which is both promising and inspiring. Of course, we are still miles away from mental health being taken seriously on all levels. I still hope for the day that treatment for mental illness is considered as vital and important as treatment for a virus or a life threatening disease. Yet we are headed in the right direction and people are beginning to acknowledge it.
I can’t help but be agitated however, by the adverse effect of such awareness: the increasing trend of mental health issues as a “look” or a “vibe”. As someone who has suffered strongly from anxiety for over a year, I am not one to be personally offended when someone tweets “this exam is giving me anxiety”. I can appreciate that “anxious” is an adjective to describe a feeling, and people are not necessarily claiming to have anxiety disorder when they use it as a figure of speech (I think this is important for people to understand, let’s pick our battles!) However, what is alarming, is watching groups of people glamourise mental illness, almost making it part of their aesthetic. In a sense it’s almost became fashionable to have depression or anxiety, it’s part of the teenage angst vibe that millennials are latching on to. People are trying to resemble their favourite troubled TV characters (Effy from Skins, anyone?). Tumblr is flooded with images promoting being in love with your sadness, glorifying self harm and generally making depression and anxiety appear as a normal stage of being a teenager. I often wonder how many people even truly know the symptoms. I myself simplified anxiety as being nervous or scared. It wasn’t until it riddled my mind personally that I realised there is so much more to it: it’s feeling a bad omen in a perfectly relaxed situation; it’s everyone being out to get you; it’s pins and needles, chest pains, migraines and other physical symptoms that I never even knew would come along with a mental issue. How many people even realise that depression doesn’t always come in the form of sadness, it can just feel entirely empty. When so many people are using mental illness to create a “look”, how can we pick out who is genuinely suffering? I’ve known people personally who’s illnesses have been completely overlooked and brushed off as just another girl claiming to be depressed, just another girl looking for attention. I can’t help but think that if it wasn’t the norm for people to describe themselves in this way, their cry for help may have stood out and been taken for what it actually was. Yet it blends in to the background of the mass of perfectly content people who want the world to think they’re sad.
We are genuinely becoming a more understanding and caring species in so many ways (in others, not so much) and I hope we keep providing people a platform to open up on. I personally want to be an individual people can confide in. But can’t we be aware without turning it into a fashion statement? Depression, anxiety and other disorders affect those suffering every single day, subtle as it may appear to others, manifesting itself for seemingly no reason. It affects your daily activities, relationships with family and friends, motivation, education, your job and so so much more.
The reality of mental illness is far removed from a fashion statement. There is nothing wrong with having a mental health issue, but anyone experiencing one can testify that there is little beauty to it.
I am not trying to dismiss anyone’s case, but simply encouraging that if you truly are a content person, embrace it!! Let’s keep the labels for the people who need them to get the correct help and treatment. One bad day is not depression, and mental illness is not a trend, it’s an illness.