A black and white image slides up my feed on Instagram; a girl is staring out her window, rain is pouring down heavily. A cursive font is scrawled over the image, reading: “Does anyone else have sad days where you just feel like shit for no reason and when someone asks you what’s wrong, you have no response but your throat begins to choke up?”
On Pinterest, text images pop up. “Who hurt you?” It reads. “My own expectations,” is what’s written underneath.
Another image, this time of a lake with a mountain backdrop. This one is grainy. It reads: “You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.”
On Tumblr, an image of a woman surfaces. She’s clearly been framed to look mysterious and haunted – an aesthetic designed to appeal – and the accompanying text reads: “People who die by suicide don’t want to end their lives, they want to end their pain.”
When I begin to type in the phrase “why struggle is” in Google Search, it auto-fills to “why struggling is good/important”. When I do the same for “why sadness is”, it adds in the word “good” first, “bad” second. There’s a trend here and it’s far from good. Social media – Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram, for starters – has begun to romanticize suffering, dressing it up in pretty images, words and fonts and displaying it in an idealized, rose-colored glasses format.
Pop media has a similar tendency. Just look at any bad boy because they all follow the same formula; good looking + snarky + tragic story. Movies, TV shows, novels and fanfics, they’re filled with them. The tragic story is used to manipulate the viewer/reader to sympathize, empathize, to fall in love. The idea of suffering is quickly linked with sexy, especially when phrases like “a walking, beautiful tragedy” is used to describe them.
These online personas and their problems are being shrouded in an aura of strength and beauty. And sometimes, it creates a narrative that almost makes people want to be depressed, want to suffer, want to engage. I can’t sit here and authoritatively speak on the behalf of everyone but I can definitely say that mental health struggles aren’t a mood. Mental health struggles aren’t signs of strength or tragically beautiful or a way of life. They are real, often overwhelming, health issues that can be quite debilitating. I’ve seen the results of depression first-hand and it isn’t pretty pictures by an aesthetically pleasing window.
We have somehow moved from a time when it was largely taboo to speak of such issues to it becoming an easy part of today’s vernacular in terms of using certain phrases loosely. The first example of this which comes to mind is the use of the word “depressed” mistakenly. “Oh, I failed my exam, I’m so depressed.” Or “My show was cancelled, I am sooooo depressed!” Again, I can’t personally attest to another person’s well-being but it’s apparent when a word is being misused at times.
Find the beauty in your sadness, your depression, your pain. Use it for art, for poetry, for writing. Make an aesthetic that helps you, and others. The problem here is that the aesthetic at times has a tendency to outshine the underlying issues. It begins to take away from the actual – real and debilitating – struggles and just boil it down to a romantic, stigmatizing theme or emotional devices meant to manipulate. One that simply uses mental health as narrative fodder, but that’s not to say that everyone does it a disservice.
And while my focus here has largely been on mental health struggles, this isn’t the only facet that is romanticized. In general, as individuals, what we can do is work towards becoming more mindful and sensitive to other people’s emotional health. We need to be critical of online trends and do our best to learn more about mental health stigma so we can make and take educated actions rooted in understanding. Like unlearning any habit, there is no easy fix or quick solution. Once a person becomes aware of a problem though, whether within or in society, they become more attuned to it.