Romanticizing Mental Illnesses Feeds Mental Health Stigma

November 12, 2015 Laura A. Barton

Sometimes it feels like romanticization of mental illness is everywhere these days and this feeds mental health stigma. Whether it’s some trendy post about what mental health “is” or how people with mental health illnesses “actually” are, it’s pretty likely to be somewhere in the social media sphere. One of the ones that bothers me the most is the one about “being strong for too long.” I’ll elaborate on how it romanticizes mental illness and feeds mental health stigma.

What Does Romanticizing Mental Illness Look Like?

Quite simply, romanticizing mental illness is the creation of some fanciful or glamorous portrayal of mental illness. The media has been cited as being particularly awful in creating this distorted image of mental health that sometimes is somehow appealing to people and makes people covet a mental health disorder because of its apparent trendiness (Mental Illness and Crazy: Creativity and Medication). On websites like Tumblr, in particular, mental illness has seemingly become more of an aesthetic than anything else.

True, many people are just trying to find an outlet to finally get out how they feel inside. For them, that could be taking quotations that mean something to them and putting them on a black and white photo or drawing an image the shows the chaos in their minds.
Romanticizing mental health issues creates a false image of mental illnesses and feeds mental health stigma. Find out how to tell truth from stigma. Read this.
As I said at the beginning of my post, one post that I have seen that I’m not fond of is the one that goes on about depression not being a sign of weakness (this part I agree with 100%) but a sign of being too strong for too long. Presenting depression in this overly generalized way is, to be blunt, wrong and completely ignores the way depression actually works and ignores the brain chemistries and whatever else is going on within our brains to cause depression (What Are The Symptoms of Depression?).

Romanticizing Mental Illness Perpetuates Mental Health Stigma

What posts like the “strong for too long” one do is create this fallen hero image. It creates a story of someone who has continuously fought and in a way lost because the depression won in this scenario. Other mental illness romanticizing creates the same sorts of images and stories and even ideals.

Ultimately, it is not how mental health works, which adds to more confusion and misconstrued ideas that lead to mental illness stigma. When we latch onto these images and these stories, we deny ourselves and others the opportunity to see the disorder, and, more importantly, the person who is struggling with it, for what and who they really are. When we create stories, we kind of detach ourselves from reality, which I would suggest puts us in line to ignore the actual issues that we face (Mental Illness Myths And The Damage They Cause).

What to Do Instead of Romanticizing Mental Illness

What we should do is look at mental illnesses for what they are. We should look at the people who have them for who they are. For those of us trying to express our mental health struggles, we should also try to recognize our disorders and our symptoms for what they actually are. In doing so, we can come to better understand our disorders, which could lead to proper treatment. Instead of being lost in a sea of stories and fancy, we can get the actual help that we need.

You can find Laura on Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Facebook and her blog; also see her book, Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2015, November 12). Romanticizing Mental Illnesses Feeds Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

April, 20 2016 at 11:41 am

@Diana: you seriously need to chill. Your interpretation of this article was so far off the mark that it had nothing to do with the topic at all. The media, especially social media memes, along with all the sitcoms, "reality" shows, and police dramas, not to mention talk show hosts and politicians, have turned mental illness into a status symbol, publicity device, revenue generator, and yet another false fear, respectively. That's what this is saying. Nowhere did the author say, or even suggest, that people suffering from mental illness shouldn't write about it. You took the article as a personal attack. Perhaps you might want to consider discussing that with your psychiatrist.

April, 20 2016 at 11:30 am

Indeed, the first commenter completely misunderstood the entire meaning of the article.
Popular media, including social media, have romanticized a chosen few -safe - mental illnesses to glorify, while demonizing the rest of us. Every time we have a mass shooting, all the politicians and news personalities start throwing around "mental illness," implying that all these mass shootings are the handiwork of dangerous mentally ill people.
I also have personal experience with this particular stigma. A couple of years ago my daughter was looking for a roommate and found someone who seemed to be the perfect candidate. They apparently hit it off so well that they even went out to lunch a couple of times during the process of getting to know each other. At one such lunch, this girl mentioned that she was being treated for depression, and unfortunately my daughter responded in kind with the information that she has Bipolar disorder. Th next day, the girl called to tell her she'd decided not to move in because it was "just too big of a risk." My daugh term was cru d hed, and I'm sure you can imagine what that did to her self esteem.
It's also true what another poster mentioned about being made the butt of jokes. I myself am so sick of hearing about how "oh, she's so bipolar," or a Facebook picture of a sex bomb blonde wearing nothing but a t-shirt, describing herself as saucy, independent, and "a little bit bipolar." I actually got into an argument on that one when I asked whether they would think it acceptable to substitute "diabetic," or make jokes about a child with cancer or someone struggling with heart or kidney disease. Iqas, of course, ripped to shreds for not being able to take a joke. The bottom line isc people may desire the title of the latest "hip" mental illness, but they want nothing to do with the real thing, and the real people who have to deal with it.

Anya Williams
April, 11 2016 at 7:42 pm

One of the things that bothers me most about the romanticization of mental illness is that depression and generalized anxiety, though hey are definitely still very misunderstood, are so heavily focused on while many other disorders are completely ignored or looked down on. It is popularly considered to be some kind of "beautiful struggle" if you suffer from depression and anxiety (which is not how it should be viewed), but if you're living with any other mental illnesses you're either the butt of a joke (OCD really comes to mind for me here because I have a pretty severe case of it, and people have made fun of my rituals) or you're viewed as dangerous or weird, etc. There are such a harmful misconceptions about mental illness, especially that depression is the only cause of suicide. Really, I think all mental disorders need to be better understood so we can get the help we need, and if you want to "romanticize" your own experiences to help you cope, like another comment mentioned, I think that's great (I'm an artist and I draw, paint, write poetry, etc. about my life with OCD and bipolar disorder), but I do think this romantic portrayal in media generally does far more harm than good. It spreads ignorance and diminishes real people's experiences. I'm glad you wrote this article and that people are realizing that we need to change this.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 13 2016 at 2:16 am

Hello Anya,
Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate the time you took and that you shared a part of your story. This is exactly the kind of thing that I was getting at with my post -- about the danger of portraying a "beautiful struggle" and all that kind of thing -- so it's good to see that it's not completely fallen short of that. I've worried that I didn't word this blog quite right considering some of the backlash I've gotten from it.
Thank you again.

Wesley Smith
December, 15 2015 at 6:24 am

Hi Laura Barton,
I found your post on romanticizing mental illness to be quite thought provoking and moving. I personally have never struggled with long term depression but my mother was diagnosed and prescribed medications to treat her severe depression. My mother has since passed away, not due to depression, but your article made me wonder how much outside influence did my mother receive prior to making the decision to use anti-depressants. Recently I have had multiple experiences with multiple populations of mental illness during my current time in school for Occupational Therapy Assistant. Being an OTA student has made me more aware of my own stigmas and misinterpretations of mental illness. Having these experiences has also made me more aware of how skewed the idea of mental illness really is in America and that it is not a thing to be glamorized. Mental illness should be something that is acknowledged for what it is so that adequate care and perceptions can be made. I believe you have made a profound point in the area of the fad of having depression or other mental illness. I can only speculate at this point but I think I can be sure that, in some form or another, my mother was swayed, however slightly, by mass media and perceived social norms. It has become such a prevalent thing in our society that depression is so common place you can’t watch TV for more than a few minutes without seeing an ad for depression medication that instead of providing help to someone in need only, as you said, romanticizes the idea of mental illness. I also wonder how much of mental illness, especially depression, is either over diagnosed, over medicated, or could be handled without the need of medication with services such as Occupational Therapy. This is obviously a very personal topic to me but it is also a very serious topic that should be talked more about. I believe more advocacy should be done like you are doing to shed light on the misinterpretations of mental illness in all forms.
My regards,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 17 2015 at 11:52 am

Hi Wesley,
Thanks for taking the time to comment. My condolences for the loss of your mother and the struggles she faced. I'm glad that you're educating yourself about mental illness and breaking down some of the stigma, and as you can probably guess, I completely agree. Mental illnesses need to be recognized for what they are and have proper treatment administered. Mental health definitely needs more honest conversation and looking at things factually can help to break through the glamour and stigma.
Thanks again for commenting. I really appreciate it!

December, 6 2015 at 6:04 pm

Honestly I think this is a load of crap. I was actually just looking for somewhere to post a piece I just wrote in the middle of the night while in the middle of what my psychiatrist likes to call an "episode". Yeah that's right, my psychiatrist. So I got the help and I can lecture you for hours on "what I really have going on" in terms that are seeing it like it really is...but writing calmed me down, writing lets it out. It's not romantic, I'm sure as all get out no hero, but what I write about how I feel helps me, and sometimes it helps others just to know someone else feels the same. Apparently you don't. I don't mean to attack but this post is bull and some of the stuff you said is sometimes exactly how I feel. Granted I'm a little more crazy than just depression, but depression is part of it. I don't think telling people they shouldn't find creative and artistic ways to express and release is any kind of helpful to anyone

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 7 2015 at 5:55 am

Hello Diana,
I wasn't trying to insinuate that writing about what you're feeling is bad. Nor that people shouldn't be creative and find an outlet. That would be completely hypocritical of me considering writing is my life and the fact that I have very often used a journal to help me sort through my own chaotic thoughts.
What I was trying to get at with this post is some of the little posts that people share seem to miss the mark on what mental health is like and instead creates this kind of fanciful image. I am speaking directly about these kinds of posts that get shared everywhere and was trying to offer a different perspective on them. As I say in this post, the "strong for too long" quote in particular bothers me because depression doesn't necessarily work on those standards and these messages ignore the inner workings of the brain that go into what's happening.
I'm not meaning to say that all of those posts are bad and that people shouldn't express themselves, but when these posts are used for an overarching view of mental health as opposed to a personalized view or experience, I feel like it becomes a potential gateway for people outside of mental health understanding to perceive what we're going through as something not to be taken seriously.
I hope that helps explain my blog a little more.
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.

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