In the era of modernism, health medicine has taken a community approach. Many governments, institutions, and psychiatrists apply psychotherapy and counseling, to treatment, instead of physical violence and isolation. The states have laws that enforce the use of psychotropic drugs for such cases. If that goes against the patient’s wishes, the mentally ill will continue to struggle for autonomy. However, the situation is still much brighter than it was decades ago.
There is no way of knowing the future of mental health care. However, there is no doubt that the reforms that began in the 1800s have created a healthier climate for mental health issues. Of course, it makes sense that once an institution stops confining patients like animals, the ordinary people also stop viewing patients as the “species” they should be afraid of. It is more of an individual who deserves legitimate medical attention and affection.
History of Mental Health Care and Cinema
Changes in people’s attitudes towards mental illness have become evident through representation in media, especially the internet and films. Unfortunately, both are significant sources of misinformation. Since film became a primary form of entertainment, Hollywood has taken on the task of reflecting society’s various stresses and anxieties over the decades. Such things are illustrated by the development of films, which first raised hot topics such as equality and racial rights.
Before WWII exploded, no cinema mentioned the difficulty of being a woman in a man’s world. Before the 1960s, no film indeed demonstrated the tension between white and black Americans. However, that all changed around the middle to the end of WWII. More films feature a strong female lead who has ambition and intelligence without the presence of a male character. Similarly, around the 1960s, some films did not just feature more African-American actors. However, it also directly comments on the tensions of race relations at the time.
Internet and Glamorizing Mental Illness
In addition to movies, the internet is a trigger for why making mental illness a trend and being cool. It is not rare for people to hear quotes like “my mood is very volatile because of bipolar” or “I am OCD and do not like dirty things.” As if they do not want to be out of date, it is not uncommon to find people who “claim” themselves to have a mental illness with internet connectivity without professional consultation.
The mental illness trend is becoming very popular on social media, especially among teenagers after the pandemic. Social media, in a nutshell, is the platform most people visit, besides movies. Without parental supervision and the ease with which the public can access various things on social media, children will also be easily influenced by the content they see. One of the phenomena occurred when the release of Todd Phillips’ Joker, where the film began to see many teenagers openly claiming to have mental illness on social media.
All of this happened because they felt that their conditions at that time matched those experienced by the film and again without further checking. On the other hand, the Joker movie hype has subsided, but the trend is still there and has even skyrocketed. On another platform, a child wrote his status on social media, saying, “do not ever bother me because I am a psychopath,” after watching the Tokyo Ghoul anime.
In such a collection, the quote has become a cultural meme where many people refer to the kid as a joke, even though the quote is a meta-irony that people can take as a joke or serious.
The Silence of the Lambs
Speaking of psychopaths, a similar case has happened in Hollywood, representing mental in an entertaining way. However, the film can lead to misinformation. In 1991, Jonathan Demme directed The Silence of the Lambs, a film that critics consider one of the best thrillers. The film uses mental illness as the main focal point in the narrative, introducing the audience to Hannibal Lecter. He is a notorious psychiatrist turned brutal cannibalistic serial killer.
The film’s premise follows the events of rookie FBI Agent Clarice, whom Lecter helps from behind bars in conducting a psychological profile on an active serial killer. Throughout the film, Demme presents Lecter as charming, articulate, with superior intelligence, and able to ensnare people in his game of wits. The film became a viral film, very influential at the time because it brought names like Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
It becomes a story of intrigue around the psychopathic personality. Although the popularity is surprising, misconceptions about psychopathy are prevalent in public thought. Soon, people believed most people that intelligence, unique charm, and psychopathy were the deals Demme packed. While it is not necessarily a negative way of representing aspects of mental illness, it is fictional, unrealistic, and inaccurate.
The implication that psychopaths have superior intelligence is false; it is the opposite of what many studies have shown. The idea of a charming and friendly serial killer is certainly a fun idea and an exciting film for actors and film directors to play. However, Hollywood bears a responsibility to portray mental illness accurately. Apart from the film’s role as mere entertainment, for the majority, consciously and unconsciously, representation is the primary catalyst for people’s bigotry.
The Symptoms of Mental Disorders
Romance mental disorder is a condition in which mental disorders are described as something better, glamorous, and aesthetic than the actual condition. The condition is often interpreted as beautifully painful. In other words, it becomes an assumption that having a mental disorder is something interesting. Millennials romanticize and desire anxiety disorders, introverts, and depression in the modern era.
Often, on purpose, they “raise” the symptoms of mental disorders to make them look like such. Of course, they look different because they want to get attention as if highlighting that normal is mainstream. Worse, such a thing can lead to rampant self-diagnosed. The condition is undoubtedly dangerous not only for oneself but also for others. The more people who claim to have mental disorders on social media without an official diagnosis from a professional, the more significant the impact on people with actual mental disorders.
People with mental disorders place it like a competition; the winner is the one who is the saddest. Such a terrible stigma should not continue to be the basis of aesthetics in society. It will be considered more beautiful if more sharp objects are in hand. On the other hand, people who are diagnosed professionally even isolate themselves to hide from society. Those who romanticize mental illness tend only to seek sympathy from people because mental illness is not a trend, let alone something to be proud of.
When an individual really has a mental illness and desperately wants to get well, many people even crave to have such a disease. They are proud that having a mental illness is strange, let alone making it a trend. Romanticizing mental illness is very dangerous and can lead people to self-diagnose.
13 Reasons Why
The historical representation of mental illness by the media, and the simple fact that romanticization is a new concept, is not the first depiction of romanticism when discussing media distortions of mental illness. On the other hand, it makes the depiction of mental illness even more dangerous. Having concluded, there is a pattern. Entertainment media triggers such problems, and social media is an open space for describing why the problem often revolves around a vicious circle.
Romanticizing mental illness may even be seen as an acceptable method of treatment for those with mental illness. However, its potential effect is more severe than one. The loop is another example in 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series, when it comes to the pattern of the problems. In the series, the detailed experiences of the female characters become part of a broader phenomenon that people refer to as suicidal contagion, a process by which exposure to suicide predisposes others to attempt or commit suicide.
The media have tried to detail aspects of news coverage that can promote the transmission of suicide. For example, it explains the technical details of the suicide, presents suicide as a suggestion to achieve specific goals, and glorifies suicide. The series also presents all aspects, showing that the show romanticizes suicide. However, it also can potentially promote suicide transmission in its audience.
Selectively, it taps into the sense of satisfaction that comes from the vengeance that Hannah gives to her bullies. The series makes suicide, and its aftermath, seem more attractive. However, it was a top-rated series, having been praised by critics for speaking openly about suicide and bullying. Ideally, it illustrates how the romance of mental illness in the media can fly freely under the radar.
In a community that is increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, the media should compensate by conveying accurate information. Such things certainly need to fix the agency so as not to bring up misconceptions. In addition to the media, mental health fighters should be able to lead a new pattern of pikers in the community by managing that mental disorders must be wisely viewing people, not considered “dangerous” or “attractive.”
Mental disorders are not something scary and taboo to talk about. However, it does not mean that the issue of mental disorders also exists in a utopian society. A sudden question arises: Is the perception of mental disease now better than a decade ago? On the other hand, people enter one side of the spectrum in viewing mental diseases as disgusting and frightening. On the one hand, the community has also slid completely to be in another spectrum.
However, there will always be a middle way where mental diseases exist without bonds with psychotic killers, aesthetic quotes about depression, or glamorous essence about suicide. For the community to reach the field of co-existence with mentally ill people, the problem of romanticization must be submitted to light and considered severe, both by the community and members of the mental disease community.
Society can create echoes from each individual, a positive echo that echoes equality and acceptance throughout the community.
- Dunn, E. R. (2017). Blue is the New Black: How popular culture is romanticizing mental illness.
- Jadayel, R., Medlej, K., & Jadayel, J. J. (2017). Mental disorders: A glamorous attraction on social media. Journal of Teaching and Education, 7(1), 465-476.
- Shrestha, E. C. H. O. (2018). Echo: The romanticization of mental illness on Tumblr. 69 Echo: the Romanticization of Mental Illness on Tumblr | Anima Shrestha.