Walking through the Young Adult section of any book store, the common factor of most of the books is more important than it seems: mental illness. The books are full of teenage suffering- depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, you name it. Now as an advocate of mental illness awareness, I would be in total support of this, if it was not for one aspect. These books do not accurately portray mental illness. They just show certain parts of it, to the point that they romanticize it. Unfortunately, books are not the only place this occurs.
Society, teen-dominated websites like Tumblr, and movies all contribute. They simplify depression into having a sad spell, not getting out of bed, not eating and then a boy coming along to rescue the poor damsel in distress from her uncomfortable sadness. They portray anxiety as worrying about a test, boys and issues with friends. OCD is a quirk that the main character may exhibit. PTSD is a way to make a character a little more complex with a mysterious background.
However, what they leave out are the hard parts. Those truly awful moments that define mental illness and can destroy a person. They forget to include the nights in which that damsel in distress will be awake all night in bed, not crying, just lying there because everything hurts so bad she cannot even feel it anymore.
Depression is spending weeks in bed, losing interest in everything that once gave you so much happiness, and ruining relationships with everyone who cares about you. It is pure, unbearable sadness for months, or even years, with no end in sight.
Anxiety is not being able to breathe during a panic attack at three in the morning for honestly no reason. It is trying to find anything to get your mind off of all of the thoughts spinning around your mind for even just a few minutes.
PTSD is reliving a traumatic event at any time. It is praying you can get through one night without dreaming about the worst moment of your life.
Bipolar disorder is waking up one morning feeling fine thinking, “Maybe this time it is. Maybe I’m really better,” only to wake up a few days later even worse.
Mental illness is serious. It is all controlling, enveloping, and at some points, unbearable. It is not something to give a character more dimension or a way to get “reblogs” on Tumblr.
You may be asking what’s so wrong about mental illness being portrayed a little incorrectly? It is still raising awareness, right? That may be true, but it is raising the wrong kind of awareness. It lessens the feelings that people suffering from mental illness feel. It gives people the wrong idea of what mental illness truly is. By incorrectly representing what controls so many people’s lives, it makes it harder for their loved ones to help them. It makes it seem like what they are going through is not as bad. People think that they understand depression because a character in that movie they watched one time had someone suffering from it and they turned out alright. It means that people already have an incorrect idea of what mental illness is, before even asking the person suffering what their mental illness truly is.
Romanticizing mental illness makes it seem glamourous, or even cool to suffer. It lessens the impact that it has on thousands of people around the world. It diminishes the voices of those suffering, crying out for help.
So instead of developing your opinion or knowledge of mental illness from social media, movies, or books, first ask those suffering. Ask them what they are going through, what they feel, and most importantly, how you can help.