Mental illness should never be something to aspire to. Making it seem cute, romantic, or beautiful distorts what it actually is; scary, lonely, and ugly.
When I see someone in the public eye talk about how an illness is beautiful, or whatever other positive word they want to use, it cultivates the idea that mental illness is romantic; that it’s a quirk and something that makes you special and unique. At a time when many people are struggling, or having setbacks with the management of mental illness, it devalues the struggle of people living with mental illness. How are people who live with mental illness meant to be taken seriously when people keep romanticizing it? There is so much awareness trying to be raised for mental illness, important campaigns, and all this does is undo all of that.
I’ve had to deal with this many times. I remember being at a party, where a group I didn’t know too well, were discussing a friend, who believed she had bipolar disorder. They were making fun of her, and throwing around comments like, “Everyone has something these days” and “Yeah, bipolar is just the fashionable ‘in’ thing to have.” and another, “People just want to be different, and bipolar makes you look quirky.” There were nods of agreement. The very idea makes my blood boil. I decided it was time to speak up and educate them. I said,
“I have Bipolar. It took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. It’s not fashionable, in fact, it’s terrifying and debilitating.”
I went on to tell them about the blog I wrote about Bipolar, and recommend some websites and books that they should take a look at. There’s still a long way to go in educating people about Bipolar. People are quick to judge and repeat stigmatizing myths they’ve heard. Not everyone is confident enough to call people out. It makes my heart race when I do. This compounds the problem when people’s views go unchallenged. If you can point people in the right direction to mental health campaigns and charities, it can make a big difference to their point of view.
To me, Bipolar will never be fashionable. It’s a lifelong severe mental illness that takes determination to live with and even more work and drives to find stability. People seem to hold onto the idea that bipolar can make you more interesting; that others will see you as edgy and vibrant, or brooding and mysterious. It’s harmful to those who are suffering and trying to reach or maintain stability.
If you can look at your journey and take some positivity from it, that’s great. it’s important to understand and learn from our experiences. There is a line though, and romanticizing an illness will never be ok. It’s damaging to people that struggle every day. A language is a powerful tool, and we need to think about how we describe mental illness; will it cause someone to relapse if I say this? Will my words make someone feel like they’re not trying hard enough? That’s the crux of it; saying mental illness is fashionable, beautiful, a quirky, cute trait to aspire to, tells people that have a negative, brutal, unrelentingly bad experience that if only they tried harder, then they could see it that way too. Mental illness just doesn’t work that way. How about praising people for getting through each day, for still being here? How about being there and listening to a friend who’s struggling? How about actively being part of the change in perceptions of mental illness? That’s something we should all aspire to.