By Kristina Eventov
First and foremost, I would like to preface this post with one disclaimer: mental health, like physical health is something we all have, but the degree to which it is “optimally-functioning” is something different altogether. So how then do we approach discussing mental health conditions, which are intrinsically personal and private conditions, in the open in order to achieve a balanced, comprehensive and compassionate understanding and awareness?
Let’s Open Up
When it comes to the presence of mental health issues in the media, I am very torn between two ends. On the one hand, greater discussion about mental health and mental health issues is undoubtedly a great thing for everyone. With more discussion come increased diagnoses and, hopefully, increased support and recoveries. If people understand what is going on in their brains, and they feel more comfortable opening up about it, how can anyone complain? There has been a greater focus on the very real presence that these issues have in our society, with many celebrities even contributing to the dialogue. This increased openness can help “sufferers” to feel less alone in what can often be very isolating and lonely times.
Needless to say, there has been a spike in the number of people suffering as a result of their poor mental health, and this isn’t a passing trend we should be adhering to; it represents a fundamental issue in society which we should be investigating
What’s in a Word?
However, what if having certain “buzz” words constantly circulating in society is causing an opposite, negative effect?
Though, of course, many people suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression, these words have made their way into our everyday vernacular in the same way that we use “morning” and “night”. Far too often the statement “urgh I feel depressed” is thrown around as though it means nothing, when in fact to feel depressed is a very serious issue. With the traction these words are gaining, more and more people are becoming desensitised to the full weight of these words. The word “nervous” is being replaced by “anxious”; a very normal mood swing can lead someone to label themselves “bipolar”. As we become more comfortable using these previously ostracised terms, we may be getting too casual with them. IS there such a thing as too much awareness?
Striking the Right Balance
I’m partial to a good meme here and there (who isn’t?), and I am definitely one for using humour as a defence mechanism. The thing is, how do you know when a joke carries a deeper meaning? When does a coping mechanism become a cry for help? It becomes much harder to distinguish between what is real and what is just “joking”. The onslaught of #relatable content is somewhat bittersweet in its ability to provide comfort and respite, yet aid the normalisation, and perhaps trivialisation, of serious issues.
Many TV shows, such as Skins and 13 Reasons Why, have been accused of glorifying, and even promoting, mental illnesses. So where do we draw the line? We want greater awareness, but not too much. If depictions of those struggling are “too real”, then they are considered a danger to and harmful for viewers. Conversely, if an issue is glossed over in order to limit the need for viewer discretion, are we then not undermining the experiences of those suffering from mental health conditions? It seems to be near impossible to strike the right balance and decide on which stance to take, though I suppose this is not surprising for such a complex and inherently personal issue.
The Social Media Menace
Perhaps the significance of our own online presence is also to blame. While we are constantly reminded that “social media is not an accurate portrayal of someone’s life” (after all most of us will admit to sharing only our highlight reel) we still often forget that a social media persona is rarely a reliable representation. Consequently, we want celebrities to be frank and honest, to show us that their seemingly perfect lives are neither attainable nor realistic. However, when these more personal and candid insights are divulged, these celebrities’ struggles are oftentimes invalidated as those with affluence have “no reason” to be suffering. We encourage celebrities to be open and exposed, only to allow us to tear them apart more easily. We crave integrity and realism yet fault human imperfection. Is it then any surprise that so many celebrities too fall victim to mental health struggles? (Regardless of previous predispositions.)
It is as if a certain criterion has been set by society for who can and cannot qualify for having a mental illness. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, though; we have been force-fed a belief that money and success come with a heightened state of happiness, rather than at its expense (which can often be the case). With an increased societal pressure to work the hardest and longest, along with employers’ higher expectations of what being a good employee entails, is (job) success really the antidote to sadness?
Where do we go from here? With everyone’s differing experiences with mental health issues – from severity to complexity to proximity -, how can we ever hope to have the correct kind of dialogue? Then again, maybe any publicity really is good publicity; as long as we are talking about it, we are doing something right.