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Mental Illness: A Modern-Day Accessory

Mental Illness: A Modern-Day Accessory

Do you take mental illness seriously?

Imagine in an alternative reality, you are medically diagnosed with a special condition, disease X. Disease X makes your heart ache and head hurt. You are unable to perform basic, everyday activities because your body experiences excruciating pain and you constantly feel tired and lifeless. You spend each day, being extremely cautious and mindful of your actions, more than anyone else around you does. You put extra effort into maintaining the most ‘normal’ of lifestyles, and take prescribed, expensive medications and go through regular medical follow-ups. And one day after spending a long time at work and feeling the criminal pain getting very slowly washed down by the medicines, you decide to scroll through some social media. What you find, is a person claiming to have the same condition as you, but amplifying its aspects. Their posts include pictures of t-shirts, with the name of your condition printed on it and a sub-text that reads ‘my X is a way of life’. There’s another post which says how X has made them a better artist. And another post, with graphic content that flashes your condition of as a ‘lifestyle’ and remarking how they just ‘don’t even care about it anymore’. The comments below have people exclaiming, how lucky that person is, to have X condition and how they wish they could have it too, as it seems very special.

What would you think/do?

It goes without saying that mental illness and wellness are crucial to human existence and knowledge. For the longest of times it has been a taboo to talk openly of mental disorders and dysfunctions, fearing social stigmas, alienation, isolation and restrictions. It has been in the recent times, owing to the advent of the internet, heightened communication, and cultural diversity through mainstream and indie, literature, media and pop culture, that we as society have come forward to encourage dialogue and shared experiences, of mental health issues. It is beautiful, that people now have the courage and means to share their stories, with others just like them.

But the normalisation of mental wellbeing has come with its personal downfalls. Most commonly, the false advocates of mental illnesses who claim to suffer from one or multiple disorders, under the motives of gaining attention, false acclaim, earn privilege or oppression points and gain sympathy. Most commonly, such practices have been prevalent on social media, where these acts of popularising mental illnesses seem, to receive the most amount of call-back.

To not beat around the bush, mental illnesses MUST be taken seriously, and there is no argument to that.Sure, humor and positivity are great for coping and recovery, and sometimes prove to be the best methods of bringing joy into a mentally troubled individual’s life. And that is where the distinction is to be drawn. Humor, positivity, openness and advocacy are tools to empower the already struggling population, going through a deep personal battle with mental issues. It is also used to formulate prevention strategies, to help the vulnerable and at-risk groups, to not spiral into psychological trouble, in the near future.

What humor isn’t meant for, is to monetise, popularise or even market, mental illnesses and psychological disorders into something almost cartoonish, ‘niche’ and yes, trendy. Why is it so serious, one asks? Because it puts the efforts of those who fought for its true advocacy, in times much tougher, at a place where nobody seems to take it seriously anymore. Mental struggles and disorders have always been a topic that must be treated with respect, decency and compassion. Buffoonish mockery of it discredits the struggle and everyone behind it. Not to mention, trigger warnings and respectful use language are very important themes that deserve to be acknowledged.

Mental Illness is not a Trend

This specific sentence could not be said more clearly. Trend-riders is a group of people on the internet, who publically associate themselves with something which is very ‘on-brand’ at the time. It can be something as trivial as, being part of a fan-based community of a TV series or liking the author, currently at the best-seller list. It can get pretty serious too, however, and that is when it gets border-line scary.

Many people, including social media influencers and celebrities, have claimed to have severe mental illnesses, to gain popularity and appeal to more groups of people. But, how does this framework function?

It is easy for people to claim identities on social media, thanks to the thin line of what separates us from real and virtual. A person might come forward to talk about mental illnesses and profit out of it as vlogger Corinna Kopf did, by releasing merchandise that advertises anxiety. The Good Morning Britain, television host Piers Morgan told the world about how some celebrities are using mental illness to gain “positive popularity” with the public, and called them out for doing people, who are genuinely struggling with mental issues, “a great disservice”- The Sun reports.

The Importance of Good Role Models

When a public figure decides to share his experiences of something deeply personal, they touch their fans’ hearts all differently, but very closely. Kanye West, one of the world’s most famous Hip-Hop artist, has openly talked about dealing with bipolar disorder. This was seen as a brave step by many, until his eccentric persona took over his behaviour displayed, to advocate said disorder. He would refer to himself as ‘crazy’ and admitted on national TV to have stopped taking his medications, justifying that he didn’t need them to make political decisions. Such behaviour is not just openly crass, but also has zero sensitivity, leaving a very bad path for the fans to follow.

When followers try following everything.

Not only do the false claims of mental struggle, put the general community of said illness, pitted in a corner where it becomes hard for people to take it seriously, it also sends out a very concerning message for the many followers of such people.

Sometimes, a celebrity may come out about their real struggle with mental illnesses openly, in an act of courage. They may display it in their art form, as a form of acceptance or relief. Their fans however, are sadly, free to interpret it however they would like. We saw this when the popular American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish came up front about dealing with depression and self-harm. This, coupled with her gory, grungy and alternative emotional music style, gave rise to a plethora of teenagers calling themselves, members of the ‘sad club’, talking about fantasies related to depression, glorifying an isolated lifestyle and indulging in self destructive behaviours, as an aesthetic.

In 2019, South-Korean girl group BlackPink came out with a mini album titles ‘Kill This Love’, with aesthetics of abuse and toxic relationships. Which in turn, lead to an increase in the amount of fan-fictions, tweets, body art etc. glorifying physical abuse and finding justifications for staying in psychologically damaging relationships.

And perhaps the most disturbing is the trope of people romanticising real life serial killers, mass murderers and rapists like Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer, who suffered from a variety of mental dysfunctions, after movies and documentaries were made, focusing on their lives and crimes. Some ‘fans’ have even gone as far as to re-create their crime patterns, in order to follow in the foot-steps of their ‘idols’.

Dealing with False Claims

It is fully understandable that some fans and followers could very likely be dealing with the same mental struggle as the ones they idealise. But in times like these, it becomes the responsibility of said person (or in case of minors, their guardian) to seek professional help and improve their condition. But trying to create similar mental problem for yourself, on your own? That is unacceptable behavior. There are millions of people around the world who are genuinely struggling with mental issues, that they had no say in! They did not have a choice. And if you, with a sound mind and mental processes, choose to be mentally ill, then you need intervention.

A sense of moral, social and psychological responsibility is something that must be learned and practiced by every citizen. One must be held accountable for what he contributes to the society, he is a part of and how he presents himself.

By allowing yourself to be normal, you are making sure you live a fully functioning life that others are deprived of. By forcing yourself into a mentally unstable or ill ‘lifestyle’, you are disrespecting and invalidating, everything its community fights for. By accepting one’s privilege, of being mentally sound, he/she becomes a resource of the society that can help contribute into making lives easier for those truly strolling with it. Do not rob yourself of that. Do not make mental illness an ‘accessory’ to be used for popularity and trend-riding. Because one day, when you’re tired of playing pretend, and are done pretending to have a severe mental disorder, you can simply walk out of the false reality you created for yourself. But unlike you, there are people who really suffer with such problems and must fight them off every day. And when they wake up the next day, they will not have the luxury to simply ‘end it’ and move on. They fight every day. Respect for that, is crucial.