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Glorifying and Romanticizing Mental Illness Online

Open the page. Refresh the feed. Refresh the feed. Refresh the feed.

Checking social media in this generation has become a habit. It’s done easily, without giving too much of a thought.

Social media has become a way to not only share thoughts, images and work, but also a way for people with like minds to meet. In some cases, however, social media can be toxic.

These days, it is nearly impossible to open Tumblr without seeing some pale, bone-thin girl sitting outside with rough self-harm scars across her legs, holding a cigarette and maybe a flower or two for aesthetic purposes. Or maybe even something along the lines of a black and white photo of a withered and sad girl coupled by a sad quote about how great being skinny feels, or how beautiful sadness is.

Let us understand that sadness is not beautiful.

Mental illness, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide are not beautiful.

Pretty girls do eat. Black and white photos of cuts or burns with a quote about dying written over it isn’t “soft grunge”. And most of all, death is not beautiful.

“Misery loves company and no one wants to be alone,” Christine Oliver, a counselor at Indian Hills Middle School (IHMS), said. “So, when someone is overwhelmed by sadness it is easy to seek out others that feel the same. Since that relationship is only based on shared sadness, the focus becomes finding ways to ‘fit in.’”

Fitting in seems like a increasingly difficult thing to do. There’s groups for everything — art, sports, even “Doctor Who” has a group whose friendships are built on their love of the show.
Tumblr, a photo and text post sharing website, has over 140 million blogs. It’s popular for those who don’t necessarily fit right in with the set groups of school or work. Users thrive on this site because they can be invested in many different communities. And while friendships made through similar interests are healthy relationships, friendships built on depression and shared hashtags like “thinspiration” or “thigh gaps” don’t always seem to last. If anything, they have a negative impact on the participants’ mental health.

“Those relationships are based only in shared pain and it leads to kids normalizing behaviors like cutting,” Oliver said. “Unlike most adults, teens are still defining themselves and deciding what kind of person they are. When you couple the constant negativity with the process of trying to define oneself, the results can be troubling because a balanced picture of life is missing.”

Being surrounded by photo after post after video of negativity creates a negative person. And while it’s easy to deny that it could possibly affect someone, it’s also very arguable that it does.

Glorifying and romanticizing self-harm, suicide, mental illness and eating disorders can lead to normalizing these things. It creates a distorted vision of depression and other mental illnesses, and also leads to those feelings of hopelessness that the posts depict.

That’s not to say that what these people are feeling is not real. To them, this could be the realest thing in their lives at that moment, and maybe for a long time. They do feel valid emotions, but because of the way they are seeing depression and suicide expressed through social media, their views are altered to think it’s beautiful and lovely, just as the posts show it to be.

No one knows exactly why people post these romanticizing posts, but there are many explanations that experts have as to why these teens feel the need to glorify and romanticize something that should definitely not be viewed in that way.

“I think maybe in our society the idea is that it’s not okay to be just okay,” Becky Wiseman, East’s social and personal counselor, said. “You either have to be the brightest, strongest, best looking, richest or most powerful to be something in this world. So if I am not any of those things then something ‘has to be wrong with me.’”

Some people say that that posting these photos and words is a fast and easy way to receive acknowledgement for the pain these teens face. Others say that some just want to fit in or feel special.

In my opinion, just stop. Whatever the reason, think before posting. People need to stop treating serious things like a fashion trend or a competition to have the most “soft grunge” look, the most followers on a pale blog, the skinniest thighs, the most mental illnesses, the most suicide attempts, the deepest and most scars on their body.

What these teens don’t always realize is that while they play “the most” game and try to see who gets the most reblogs or likes, they are messing with serious things that can affect someone for the rest of their lives. If they have a life left to continue. Romanticizing these unhealthy behaviors leads to normalizing them, and this shouldn’t be needed to feel adored or to fit in.

So please, before reblogging or posting another black and white gif of someone talking about how lovely death is to add to a pale blog aesthetic, think about it.

It’s like handing them a crossbow, showing them how to aim at their heart and saying, “But I didn’t shoot them.”

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Stella Braly

Sophomore Stella Braly is a staff writer for the Harbinger. She enjoys writing, all things music, cats and art. Read Full »

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