Is mental illness glamorous?

Apparently there is nothing romantic about mental illness. Which is odd because the internet is awash with dark pictures depicting distress and impassioned quotes. Tumblr especially has a large collection of pro-self harm and thinspiration imagery. Does finding beauty in pain make it more acceptable? What is the function of strongly identifying with being depressed, mad or terrified?

A culture that admires and reveres mental illness has developed over the last decade on social media and like most sub-cultures it exists on a spectrum. On the severe end self harm is encouraged and eating disorders are idolised within a culture of competition. To take your own life is a way of becoming forever recognised as a suffering being.

What does denying the romanticism that some people see in suffering do to the debate around ‘glamorising mental illness’?

The backlash against this glamorisation appears to involve stating firmly that it is neither attractive or trendy and that it needs to stop. These articles inevitably go on to talk about what mental illness ‘actually is’:

“It is not cool or romantic. It is waking up crying because you are alive another day. It is feeling as if you have no purpose on Earth. It is the blanket of pain at 3 a.m. and the thoughts of suicide that are screaming in your mind.”

This feels rather simplistic and patronising and appears to be missing the crucial point; that some people find meaning and validation in suffering. As a society we are often told to ‘man up’ or’get on with it’. Not functioning well enough in a career or in a relationship is often judged as weak. From a young age children can be told ‘don’t cry, you don’t need to be upset’. Does this lack of validation about the suffering we experience, both from within the family and within wider culture encourage some to create emotionally-charged material that is popular with others?  Perhaps if someone is feeling stigmatised then romanticising what they are experiencing makes it more bearable.

Glamorising pain obviously has a downside, it can encourage vulnerable people to sink into further troubles and take up coping mechanisms like self harm that are often not advantageous. But to intervene and have a conversation about this we need to recognise the reasons behind the allure and fascination of suffering.

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37 thoughts on “Is mental illness glamorous?

  1. What’s interesting is the connection between mental illness and creativity, and especially how our society depicts this correlation. It’s true there is a link between mental illness and creativity, which makes sense – mental illness inspires passion (often only after many ‘dull and lifeless’ days), and it provides an individual with a unique perspective. However, like you said glamorizing this connection has led to problems. For example, a good example in the U.S. is how we depict our rock stars and what we come to expect from them. Look at Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, etc… pretty much any rock star that has been labeled as being ‘neurotic’. Could it have been possible for Kurt Cobain to have secured his legacy without ending his life tragically; could Jim Morrison have made it as a superstar if he hadn’t been known for pushing the limits of his own well-being? It’s hard saying, but it is clear that society in a way expects its performers to be inflicted, and a lot of people have stereotyped this image by depicting mental illness as a thrill ride. A book that has helped me to make sense of all of this is Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison. She is a psychologist that explores the link between mental illness and creativity – very interesting, good read!

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  2. Agreed. TV and cable movies and Hollywood are filled with mental illness themes / stories. My mother has mental illness (and now. Alzheimer’s) as long as I’ve known her. There is no glamour it, believe me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting sentiment. In regards to suffering, on one hand there’s the “ying yang” view that with happiness comes suffering and through pain one can truly appreciate joy….
    I’m not on Tumblr so haven’t come across the “glamorisation” of mental illness, but I guess the prevalence of imagery and quotes about it is a way for people to finally express their experiences in a public forum as we move closer in society to understanding and accepting mental illness for what it is and not a weakness of humanity… Now I’m rambling.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Having a mental illness is boring, since it often keeps you from leaving the house or calling people… maybe romanticizing it fulfills the need for excitement? Mental illness as an imaginary friend?
    Anyway, a pinch of romance in exchange for one’s social life is not a good trade. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fabulous wordplay: ‘…to intervene and have a conversation about this we need to recognise the reasons behind the allure and fascination of suffering.’

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this read!!! Good point well made. I do wonder however, if the glamour and romantic views that are now depicted in social media is a way for “normal” people to perhaps accept us “the certified crazies”??? To decrease stigma?? I’m a nurse, have a chronic mental illness and I must say… I have treated the youth of today, and at times…I have seen people who have tried to become “insane”. There seems to be a want to be with “a label”! Perhaps a path is being made to account for actions? An excuse?

    I keep a journal for when I’m well AND unwell, and when I come out the other side I use my notes to write what it was like in my blog.
    Is it beautiful thinking aliens are trying to land in my phone. The FBI are watching me? Absolutely not. Good food for thought!

    Can’t wait to read more!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love the name of your blog 1 and 2 Having experienced it Mental illness is horrible bring it to the light sure but to treat it not to aspire to it. Autism on the other hand is neurological and we the ASD crew are incredible glamour pusses. LOL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A really good point that we need to be shouting out. Tumblr has led to some awful situations for me and some day I’ll have the courage to explain in detail why, but the romanticisation, sting a and cynicism of mental illness NEEDS to stop. One day we’ll get our message recognised but thank you for making your dent into the campaign! Love your posts 🌟 Xx

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Very interesting post. My initial response to the headline was’ ‘Is it f*ck!!!). You raise some really good points, I write about mental illness amongst other things and they tend to be my most popular posts. I think that the idea of coming through mental illness and the lessons it teaches you is a beautiful, life affirming thing, and something that resonates with many people. However, the ugly, horrific reality of living with a severe mental illness is something that few are really willing to face, including often those that are closest to us.

    So perhaps the idea of mental illness can seem romantic / glamorous but the reality is anything but.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Great post. You touched on a subject that has been bothering me for years – namely, the fact that some (read: me) have a tendency to romanticize victim hood as a way to gain validation. Makes you wonder why that happens. Is it because we don´t validate our own feelings? Or because it´s a trend to invalidate “bad” feelings in society as a whole?

    Thanks for the follow, will be reading more of your stuff!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Obviously, this can be truly controversial. As someone who has been told I’m “depressed” or dealing with “anxiety” or even “ptsd”, I am disgusted. I certainly believe that I have experienced, and continue experience the symptoms that these conditions are linked, but at the same time, I want to find ways to deal with them. I think there is this need to constantly label – anything – and I feel that mental illness has just become a new way to do that. I look at my own blog, my own social interactions, and I can easily say that I play a major role in the consequences of everything that occurs in my life.

    Choice is a major point that most people with mental illness forget they have the power to do.

    But even with that said, I tend to agree that there is this social construct for mental illness – like a fad. Does it relieve us of responsibility, like so many other things?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I also wrote a post about that topic and although I kind of like movies and books where mental illness seems a little less painful than it actually is I think that everyone who’s experiencing it knows that there is hardly anything galmorous about it…

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Well said. Pretty much what I’ve been saying for years. Ever since my Livejournal days of 2003 when I used to say “next they’ll be selling blades at Hot Topic”. I avoid tumblr as it seems to be a breeding ground of people glamorizing something that isn’t glamorous and something I wish I didn’t have.

    Liked by 5 people

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