Feminism | Posted by Louisa G on 05/21/2014

Why We Need To Stop Romanticizing Mental Illness Amongst Teen Girls

I realized recently that my generation has a strange fascination with the perception of mental illness, especially as it relates to teenage girls. I’ve noticed young women posting many quotes about mental illness on their Instagrams and Tumblrs — the sadder, the better, it seems. I think this increasing fascination with and performance of depression may stem from the media through the likes of movies and books where “broken” girls are seemingly put back together by the undying love of a man. This goes further than the typical boy-meets-girl cliché of an 80s movie and delves into the fantasy that someone with severe depression can be simply “fixed” by the right guy.

The infatuation people have with making mental illness something that can be seen as beautiful and even romantic is one that I hope will fade away as quickly as it popped up. Mental illness is not beautiful or poetic. It is a chemical imbalance in your brain that can cause you to think and do things that are dangerous and painful. It is a boulder that’s tied to your back, weighing you down more and more each day until it crushes you completely. It is a darkness that looms over you, never breaking apart to let the sunlight in. It is not something that can be solved by writing a song and it definitely can’t be cured by meeting the right guy.

The reality is, the more people romanticize mental illness, the less it’s taken seriously. If every time someone posts a sappy quote on their Tumblr, who’s to say if it’s a cry for help? As the girl who cries depression creeps to the edge, will anyone believe her once her voice is too hoarse to yell? This is the fear I hold for our future as young people.

Despite what popular fiction might tell you, depression will not simply go away once you enter a heteronormative relationship. These issues are deep, and telling teenage girls that finding somebody to tell them they’re beautiful or need anything less than professional help to battle depression is doing them a disservice. We cannot let teenage girls believe that someone will come and make them feel beautiful or worth it, but instead teach them to find that worth within themselves. They must find the confidence to make it through another day and the courage it takes to ask for help. This is the lesson we must teach our young women. This is the lesson of independence that will save their lives.

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  • Tasha @ at 1:43 pm, May 21st, 2014

    This is so important. When I suffered with an eating disorder, I dated a guy who was simply fascinated with my anorexia and my shrinking self. I think this was largely due in part to what you talk about in your article: society has come to romanticize mental illnesses. It is seen as a quirk (see: Jennifer Lawrence on Jesse Eisenberg) or a fad or what have you. We need to raise awareness about mental illness so people fully understand what they are talking about when they talk about depression, EDs, bipolar, etc.

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  • Jennyfer @ at 11:46 am, May 23rd, 2014

    You are right that Hollywood distorts and diminishes the true nature and impact of mental illness and that this distortion infuses mental illness with a certain allure and mystique. I also feel that the general depiction of mental illness in the media has begun to destigmatize the diagnosis, which is both good and bad. People suffering from such illnesses should not be ostracized, yet with this acceptance comes an overuse of the terms used to describe mental illness and a dilution of their meanings.

  • Serena @ at 12:50 am, May 30th, 2014

    This is such a true article, but one thing I would like to wonder if is if there is a line between romanticization and acceptance. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but after going through three months of a mild depression (not a self-diagnosis, for the record), the most beautiful thing I heard was from my teacher who said that my ‘dragons and poetry were probably intertwined’. As an artist and writer, I can say that depression does inhibit my creativity and inability to get anything done. But, on certain days (during, but mostly after that period), I felt like I was drawing upon that emptiness and from my experiences to create a level of depth and feeling that wouldn’t have been there without suffering. Would I rather be a writer/artist who could feel the same things without having to undergo them? (think that through. . . I guess it’s not possible)–yes, most definitely yes, and I would strongly advise anyone with depression to not ‘suck it up’ for the art and sacrifice yourself upon the altar of self-destructive creativity (see: please, consult a mental health professional). For me, I agree with Andrew Solomon in saying that “while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I’ve found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy.” Perhaps this is a dangerous romanticization, but it has helped me come to terms with the fact that I will probably carry this burden for life.

    PS: I realize this is more about a persons relationship with depression, and the article is about the media/other’s/mainstream’s relationship with depression. However, I hope it’s still relevant, and of course that I don’t offend anyone with my personal point of view.

  • Rosie @ at 6:28 pm, June 4th, 2014

    This is so important.When i went on tumblr and saw the little posts and how people expected a straight partner to rescue them not only did it belittle my depression it also made me feel angry as though people wanted something that to me was hell .It was also dangerous for the girls that did have mental illness in a way that it prevented them from moving on.they were practically encouraged to stay depressed of anorexic etc and people who didnt have it were encouraging them to

  • km @ at 9:46 am, June 15th, 2014

    “Mental illness is not beautiful or poetic. It is a chemical imbalance in your brain that can cause you to think and do things that are dangerous and painful.”

    I was on board with the general sentiment until this part.
    This stigma that mental illness (which is one heck of an umbrella term for a variety of conditions) is supposedly dangerous is incorrect and problematic.

    There’s a way to talk about mental illnesses without making generalizations and attempting to define them in ways that only further marginalize and stigmatize those who are affected by them.

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