March 20, 2023
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Photography By Natalia Lebedinskaia/Getty Images
Talking about mental health is important. But sometimes I wonder if we’ve taken “normalizing” it too far.
Last week, I went out to dinner with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in some time. We spent an hour catching up, swapping stories, and talking about trips and work. I asked her about a mutual friend, wondering how she was doing.
“She’s OK,” my friend told me hesitantly, as though she wasn’t believing her own words.
“What does that mean?” I asked her. OK doesn’t really mean anything to me.
“Well, she texted me last week, ‘Hey girl, guess what? I’m a Zoloft girlie now!‘”
I squinted at my friend, a bit confused by the statement. Our mutual friend was… excited? To be on an SSRI?
I confess that I was initially judgmental of the text. It felt as though our friend was trivializing something serious.
Now, I wonder if she was trying to make light of a situation in an attempt to seek a connection. I am sure I have made similar comments about myself on antidepressants or thrown out a joke about therapy. Making-light-of-the-situation-humor is a coping mechanism.
That conversation made me reflect on mental health and its place in society.
It’s evolving and being talked about more and more openly — something that is (and should be!) celebrated. I see a lot of that conversation taking place online on social media apps such as Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.
Social media accounts such as @SoSadToday on Twitter have nearly 800K followers. @MyTherapistSays on Instagram has nearly 8 million. Hundreds of thousands of people seem to connect with these posts.
Some of @SoSadToday’s tweets from 2022 are darkly funny. “Not in the mood to be a living being” they tweeted in April. “Nothing good happens out of bed,” they wrote in December. Scroll through their feed and you’ll note that their tone is one of morbid humor — and, I admit, I chuckled at some of them.
Why am I laughing at, “liking,” or retweeting pain? And why are 800K people doing the same?
This idea extends into pop culture, too. Lana Del Rey has practically coined the term “Sad Girl Summer” following her album, “Summertime Sadness.” Musicians such as Phoebe Bridgers have curated an entire aesthetic on depression. Taylor Swift’s most recent single, “Anti-Hero,” has spent eight weeks at #1. Lyrically, the song discusses hating yourself.
This trend has sent me into a spiral. Is it now “cool” to have mental health issues? Are we glamorizing it? Or are we trivializing it?
We have everyday vernacular that discusses suicide and mental health as though it’s a joke. I’m not innocent in this. I have uttered things such as: “It was so embarrassing, I wanted to die,” or “I’d like to go throw myself off a cliff now.”
These comments are made in jest. But why have I made a joke out of suicide? There’s nothing funny about that. And did that embarrassing moment really justify wanting to die? No. Not even close.
So why am I making light of such a thing?
I have tweeted jokes about my own depression, or things I’ve discussed in therapy. I no longer have a Twitter account, so I can’t say for certain whether I’d be continuing this habit or not. But it has made me reflect on my intentions for doing so.
In hindsight, I think I made jokes about my mental health as a way to exhibit control over it. I wanted to be the one dictating the story.
I think, too, it helped me feel as though the problem was not as severe as it was.
I have seen on social media accounts, particularly stories on Instagram, people I know who post themselves crying while holding up a peace sign. “Brb having a mental breakdown,” they’ve captioned it.
When I was shopping this past weekend I came across a shirt that had “Anxiety Queen” printed on it. I also saw a sticker that said “Anxiety is my cardio.”
Professionals have been analyzing the relationship between social media and mental health for years now.
In 2017 research, this relationship was discussed in focus groups with kids between the ages of 15 and 22. Some teens commented that they thought anxiety was being portrayed as “cute” on social media. Others commented that depression was a “way of life.”
The researchers concluded that “many teenagers and young adults see mental disorders as relatable, normal, and desirable, while people actually diagnosed with any mental health disorder might get a false impression that what they are experiencing is normal and common.”
It’s a double-edged sword.
Mental health does need to be talked about. It in no way should be minimized or discouraged. I am sure countless people have found a community online where they feel safe and can be open about — or laugh at — their struggles.
I suppose I wonder about the “aesthetic” of depression, and if by constantly making jokes about it, we are glamorizing mental health as something trendy. Is our society capitalizing on it, with its funny shirts and silly stickers? Are we contributing to it by (literally) buying into it?
I don’t have an answer to any of this. I see both sides and I’ve talked myself in circles.
We need the discussion. But I worry sometimes about how it’s discussed… but at least it’s being talked about? But will people take it seriously? But at least we’re talking about it??? But will people aspire to have a disorder???
BUT AT LEAST WE ARE TALKING ABOUT IT?!?!?
At the end of the day, we have no control over what others are going to be posting on their social media accounts. We cannot dictate an artist’s aesthetic. But we can make a difference in how we cultivate trends.
We can consider its intention and maintain hope that it is good. I like to think that talking about mental health is simply a way to form a community and help others feel as though they aren’t alone — to maintain connection and to relate to those around us.
The stigma needs to be broken — but I will continue to try to be mindful of doing it respectfully and authentically.
P.S. As I finished typing up this article, my roommate said she was leaving the room for a meeting. My response? “Well, now I’m depressed.”
Medically reviewed on March 20, 2023
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