Let’s Stop Romanticizing Mental Illness As A Cute Personality Trait

On our quest to recognize the importance of mental health awareness, we’ve crossed into the dangerous territory of unwittingly minimizing it by cheapening the severity of it.

By Keelia Clarkson2 min read

If there’s one thing many Millennials have in common, it’s growing up with parents who didn’t understand the whole “mental illness” thing. Often, our parents would have a just get over it attitude, or chortle at the thought of anyone needing therapy. In short, for far too long, people who suffered from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, autism, and so many others were treated like abnormal, medicated weirdos.

In light of that, today’s younger generations have made a concerted effort to accept and normalize struggling with mental health issues and going to therapy — which is fantastic news for those who deal with it every single day. But the flipside of this effort has seen some damage done to mental health awareness: our surface-level understanding of a vast array of disorders has led many to incorrectly self-diagnose

Our surface-level understanding of a vast array of disorders has led many to incorrectly self-diagnose. 

You might hear someone laugh that they’re so OCD because they like to keep a tidy house, or someone dramatically telling you they’re clinically depressed because they’re going through somewhat of a rough season — almost like they want to battle a mental illness. But wait…why would someone want to have a mental illness, if they don’t?

We Think Mental Illness Will Make Us Cool

In times past, having a mental illness would get you judgemental looks and perplexed attitudes. These days, it gets you “cool” points. 

Millennials, more than other generations, seek something that makes them special.

Why? Because we’ve tried so hard to banish the negative stereotypes surrounding mental health that we’ve glorified and discredited it, treating anxiety like it makes us cute and funny, OCD like it’s a little quirk, or depression like it’s #relatable. And because Millennials, more than other generations before, seek to find something that makes them unique or special, we treat mental illness like an aesthetic or a personality trait.

Trust Me, Mental Illness Isn’t Cool

As someone who has dealt personally with mental health issues, and known multiple people who’ve struggled with full-blown eating disorders, self harm, anxiety, depression, and extremely severe OCD, I can confidently say: mental illness isn’t cool. It’s frustrating, unreasonable, and makes life extremely difficult to live, not just for the person who has it, but for everyone they love. And for many, there’s no true end of its reign in sight.

Mental illness is frustrating, unreasonable, and makes life extremely difficult to live.

Anxiety stops being cute when you have a paralyzing panic attack at the thought of going to school or speaking to someone. Eating disorders stop being desirable when you see someone you love shrink to skin and bones before they end up in the hospital. OCD stops being quirky when every single aspect of your life is filtered through its unrelenting, irrational lens.

How This Actually Hurts People with Mental Illness

The romanticization of mental illness does more than cheapen it — it discredits those who suffer from it every day, and puts them in danger of not getting the professional care or medication they need. Our general failure to recognize the severity of living with a mental illness is reflected in medical professionals not taking it as seriously as a physical condition or illness, and is only made worse by the startling statistic that 34% of teenagers have lied about having a mental illness in the past. 

34% of teenagers have lied about having a mental illness in the past. 

This unfortunately morphs the mental health stigma from “just get over it, freak” to another flavor of the same attitude: believing it to be no more than a phase, which is also an incredibly damaging narrative. Mental health is serious. It’s not a phase or an aesthetic. And the sooner we’re able to treat it as such, the better for everyone whose lives are ruled by it.

Closing Thoughts

Having an honest conversation about mental illness is so deeply important — so I’m glad we’ve begun the work of allowing those who suffer from it to feel safe in expressing their struggle. That being said, I do hope we’re able to offer the hardships of mental illness the respect, awareness, and recognition it deserves, without glamorizing it.