The Problem with the Media Glamorizing Mental Illness

Makeup style from the show Euphoria

Photo by Alexandra Lowenthal

Makeup style from the show ‘Euphoria’

Mental health illnesses have a poor representation on social media and TV shows. The stigmatism surrounding mental illness has turned into a glamorization. Rather than educating people on the real struggles, the media turns mental illness into an unrealistic version for entertainment. 

Some may argue that social media helps bring awareness to mental health, but, in many cases, the way social media portrays mental health has morphed into a toxic trend. On Instagram, there’s aesthetically pleasing posts that glamorize mental health challenges which diminishes the real struggles of individuals, and on TikTok, people post superficial comments that oversimplify mental health challenges. 

One toxic trend includes people making jokes on social media platforms about people without trauma as being boring. These jokes make mental illness seem desirable and cool while minimizing those who struggle. 

A benefit to increased posting on social media is normalization and understanding of mental illness. This is important, but on social media and TV shows, mental illness has turned into a stereotyped personality trait. The representation doesn’t really help people who actually suffer with mental illness. 

Many social media platforms and shows tend to show an oversimplified version of mental illness. Depression is made out to seem like you lay in bed for a few days and then everything is fine. Anxiety is shown as something that can be fixed with some simple breathing exercises. People joke that they have OCD when they like to clean their room. 

In 2017, the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” was released and faced a lot of criticism with how depression and suicide were portrayed. The show is about a girl named Hannah Baker who tragically takes her life and makes recording tapes beforehand about the 13 reasons why she committed sucide. 

The show romanticized sucide and suggests to viewers that if a person kills themselves that people will pay more attention to them. But, in reality, people who suffer from depression do not end their lives for attention—instead they are overcome with pain and complex emotions. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t educate viewers on the reality of suicide or how to get help; rather it distorts sucide as a way to get revenge. 

“Maybe [viewers] think the ‘reasons’ she killed herself were valid and even a reason to do so themselves. That’s the harmful part of it,” said September Stratton, a senior student at Bingham. “Instead of informing people to get help or maybe tell their parents about how they feel, it portrays the opposite and tells them to give up.”

Another show “Euphoria” that portrays mental illness was released by HBO in 2019. The show has a very aesthetic look with glitter, cinematic music, and vibrant lights. These aesthetic additions mask the real struggles of mental illnesses, including drug addiction, OCD, and bipolar disorder. The show also depicts abusive relationships, shows violence, and normalizes sending nudes. 

“The main character is pretty up there on the crazy scale…I think it could cause a lot of issues with people going to drugs to help their mental illness,” said Stratton. 

“Euphoria” doesn’t show healthy ways to deal with struggles. Instead of showing ways to reach out, the characters turn to drugs and drinking. The characters continue to make poor choices that make the show interesting to watch, but it also encourages that the things they are doing are normal and cool.

“TV shows over-dramatize everything to make it entertaining and make it so people will watch them,” said Stratton.

Making mental illness entertaining and aesthetically pleasing in the media shows a poor representation of what people with mental illnesses truly live with. Struggles like a drug addiction shouldn’t be seen as something that makes you cooler or more interesting. In reality, addiction is a battle that many people struggle with and it’s very difficult to overcome. 

Of course, not all representation of mental illness is bad throughout the media. It’s important that we talk about mental illness and give resources for people to get help. Education is important, and we should avoid misrepresentation.