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How To Recognize And Break Habits That Are Romanticising Mental Illness

Updated: Jul 25

by Alif Azizan |


The year is 2010, you are rocking your day out in high school. You have friends, people to hang out with every day. Your only worries came in the form of piled homework in courtesy of your ‘beloved’ teachers during the long holiday. Mental illness? Never heard of it, things are going great. You imagined a great future, perhaps you might be a successful doctor, maybe an engineer! (That is if you subscribe to the common Asian household template of what is to be expected out of Asian children) Maybe at the very least, you will become a person of great stature in society, one can only dream.


Except, everything that you imagined, everything or every single ideal person that you thought you would be didn’t materialise, and by the time 2020 rolls in, you might end up as a very unhappy person with deteriorating mental health (read: depressed).


How to recognize mental illness?

Perhaps before we delve deeper into this matter, we need to properly comprehend the term ‘mental illness’. Everyone possesses mental health, it is a well-known fact. Now think of your mental health as your health bar (HP) in a video game, every single time you take damage (stress) from your opponent, it further results in those damage becoming status ailments (mental illness), be it poison, burns, or bleed.


So, when you are inflicted with one or two status ailments, your health bar takes a dip. The same theory applies towards your mental health as well, when you are dealing with constant stress that your mind gradually shuts down or is frequently affected by it, the outcome from such occurrences, be it depression, PTSD, Schizophrenia and etc is known as ‘mental illness’. This, in turn, causes your mental health to decline.



How to recognize it when someone is romanticising mental illness?

Unfortunately, there are people who decided to take this up a notch by romanticising mental illness. While we understand that there is a need to embrace your flaws and accept yourself for who you are, that does not include a potentially declining mental health being part of the package as well.


We love you but making mental illness out to be something ‘beautiful’ or ‘deep’ doesn’t sit right with us. It's true that everyone is beautiful in their own aspects, even those who are suffering from mental illness; but the mental illness itself is NOT beautiful, it’s not something you need to embrace, it’s something you have to address. Here are some identifications of romanticized mental illness:


1. Depressive, suicidal thoughts dressed in ‘poetic’ words

This behavior is very prominent on Tumblr, how suicidal thoughts are dressed in pretty backgrounds and quoted in such a way that makes it sound poetic. For example,

Replacing the pain with serenity at that dark, quiet place.”

Or how pictures of self-harm are captioned with

“They are still a part of the beautiful you.”

While we understand the struggle of self-acceptance amongst those who are suffering from mental health issues, are these the best way to cope?


2. Inappropriate usage of mental illness terms for normal circumstances

You might have noticed that the media (movies, music, social media, etc) has created a negative influence wherein mental illness is seen as an aesthetic: having one make you ‘deep’, ‘quirky’ etc.


Hence, to jump on the trend, mental illness terms are now often used as adjectives. For instance, “I am depressed” when you are merely sad, “I have OCD” when you actually just have manageable and controllable perfectionist traits. “Ah I am so triggered, this is giving me PTSD” when you are just having flashbacks of the past that make you cringe.


Trust me, the things that you are experiencing are NOTHING like what the patients go through. Depression is more complex than having sad days and PTSD patients suffer from actual panic attacks, nightmares and memory problems when they are exposed to triggers.


The danger of this normalisation is, you are making it harder to distinguish between real symptoms or mere adjectives by desensitising the public to mental illness issues. People who are really suffering might be accused as ‘fake’ just like others, and deterred from seeking help. So please, don’t use mental illness terms recklessly.


3. Consuming brands that are sensationalising mental illnesses

The fashion industry, while flashy and enticing is not always morally ethical. Some clothing lines are ignorant in using mental illness facts and quotes to sell their products, further implying that being mentally ill is ‘trendy’. One of the primary instances is when clothing brands release T-shirts with the word ‘Depression’ written all over it or one that says ‘Eat Less’, which is arguably glorifying anorexia nervosa. Another example would be when someone was selling T-shirts with Kurt Cobain’s suicide note on eBay. Again, suicide is never to be glamorised.


The music and media industry is not exactly pristine and scandal-free. It has also played a part in romanticising mental illnesses. Browse through the current popular playlists or Netflix and you’ll find a handful of song lyrics or series that glamorise suicide and depression.


If a person can wear these outfits and relate to these lyrics comfortably, it might imply that they do think that mental illnesses are a ‘beautiful thing’ or ‘a part of who they are’, hence is a clear sign of romanticisation of mental illnesses.


Some might argue that the rationale being wearing these outfits and listening to these songs are purely for aesthetics; however, there are still risks of them advocating the glorification of mental health issues through these materials, especially for the more vulnerable and impressionable consumers.


Source: AliExpress


How to break the habit of romanticising mental illness?

While we understand the struggle of self-acceptance amongst those who are suffering from mental health issues, we believe there are better, healthier ways to cope; such as seeking help from a therapist. There are two ways to address this subject,

  1. Be vigilant when using social media

First and foremost, when going on the net, you will have to be mindful of your surfing habits and stay away from posts that portray mental illness as something ‘beautiful’. If you happen to encounter such posts, don’t retweet or reblog. If needed, you can even take action by reporting such posts or anything similar to it. You can also contribute to this effort by refraining from posting statuses or pictures that glorify mental illness. Always keep in mind that this is an illness that requires diagnosis and treatments, not a trait that should be made fancy.


It is also important to be aware of the distressing thoughts that bother you, when you acknowledge that the aforementioned thoughts existed, you will ultimately decide that such distressing thoughts needed to be addressed, which is immensely positive progress in breaking the habit.


2. Realize that professional help is sometimes necessary

One of the most important things in handling mental illness is to realise that you are never alone in this battle. Help everyone to help you by helping yourself first. To put it in layman’s terms, go seek professional help! Don’t self-diagnose, and enrich yourself with knowledge on mental health and abnormal psychology (a lot of institutions offer mental health awareness nowadays!).


In short, if it justifies or lightens the severity of the harmful symptoms such as suicide, anorexia, self-harm, etc, then those acts are constituted as romanticising. While the signs above might be useful in self-diagnosis, we highly recommend you seek professional help (instead of, you know, googling your symptoms on the net then end up feeling worse because you are overthinking things or misdiagnosing yourself).


The romanticisation of mental illness is not a matter to be taken lightly. A lot of vulnerable groups like teenagers or people with less access to mental health knowledge might succumb to the distorted romanticized idea of mental issues and stray away from help. Hence, be responsible in your posts – depression, anxiety, and disorders are not a trait to be glorified, they are diseases that need to be addressed and treated.



Talking and writing about mental illness might be a whole lot easier than handling it, but then again nobody said that confronting mental illness was going to be easy. Which is why we are all fighters, as the great Rocky Balboa once said,


“It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward!”


You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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