As somebody who has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anorexia at different points throughout my adolescence, I have to say I’m incredibly relieved that socially, we’re taking steps to remove the negative stigma associated with mental health issues and are beginning to treat them as what they are: health issues.
Growing up, I was one of those kids: great grades, student government, vice president of multiple clubs, athletics, and theatre. I’ve always been the textbook overachiever, obsessed with maintaining a perfect image, so I have kept my mental health very private until recently, when I started taking medication to deal with my mental illness.
I’m not afraid to say any of these things now that society is telling me that it’s acceptable to take medication, and I won’t be judged for it just like I wouldn’t be judged for taking antibiotics to treat a virus.
However, with that being said, there is something that our media and society are doing around the issue of mental illness that terrifies me, and that’s romanticizing it.
There is nothing romantic about spending days on end in your room, terrified to leave your room, missing classes, meetings, and deadlines. There is nothing romantic about being kept up at night with flashbacks and panic attacks. And if you’re at the point where you don’t feel like your life is worth living anymore, what you leave behind won’t be beautifully tragic. The damage will be messy and painful, and there’s nothing beautiful about that.
While the success of things like Fifty Shades franchise and more recently, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why brings awareness and gets people talking, they also perpetuate the unhealthy and dangerous idea that you can love someone hard enough to fix them.
This idea is damaging for everybody involved— if you’re the one struggling with mental health, you feel as though there’s something wrong with you for not feeling okay all the time, despite the fact that you may be surrounded by incredible people. You don’t want to burden them, because you don’t want them to feel guilty for you having a down day, or for not noticing the signs that something isn’t going quite right.
And if your loved one has mental health issues, the romanticizing of it can make you feel guilty, or like you haven’t done enough, or if you had loved them more, or said something or done something differently, they’d be okay (we see a prime example of this with Clay in 13 Reasons Why). It’s important to remember that when somebody is at a low enough point, they might not even be able to recognize how loved they are, and there isn’t anything you can do differently. Remember that you are enough, too.
That’s not to diminish the importance of support or being kind to the people around you, but I’ll say this again, you can’t love someone hard enough to fix them.