Mental disorders in teens: a “popular” epidemic

“I just want someone to kiss my scars.”

“Your cuts are beautiful.”

“One day someone will come and fix me.”

Ideas like these have recently consumed the minds of teens and young adults on social media websites, most commonly tumblr. In the past year and a half, Tumblr has become the center of the “pseudo-depressed” lifestyle for many teen girls. Teens are often judged by their Tumblr, and how “artsy” it is.

Artsy, in this context, means having depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, anxiety or other mental disorders. But these disorders aren’t artsy. They aren’t fun, they aren’t “tragically beautiful,” and too often blogs, Twitter accounts, and Pinterest boards promote the idea that depression is beautiful.

Poems encouraging depression and self-harm encompass the average tumblr blog. Many blogs on tumblr, tweets on Twitter, and pins on Pinterest advocate the idea that life is a John Green or Nicholas Sparks book and if you just wait and drown in your sadness, someone will come and save you. Victims of mental disorders know this is not the case. If you are sincerely depressed, you have to be your own hero, and advocate for yourself. Blogs on tumblr repeatedly tells girls that being depressed is “good for your soul.” They tell girls that getting no sleep, not eating, cutting themselves, giving up on school, friends, and life is okay because it makes you a stronger person. But what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. Especially when it can kill you.

“Creative” pictures like this are nothing less than expected on the average “depression blog.” This picture claims that good art comes from sadness, and only true, honest art can come from a state of depression. In the photo the message is shown on the wrist, the most common place for people to cut themselves.

Lisa Muhs, a guidance counselor at Leesville Road High School said, “As for any situation, I think it is important for people to recognize the difference between the truth and a glamorized-Hollywood story. If a person struggles with a mental illness, I believe that it becomes part of their story and everyone’s story is unique and beautiful in their own way.”

When asked if these mental disorders have becoming something of envy in the last decade, Muhs suggested that teenagers weren’t covetous of the disorder in itself, but “maybe people that do not understand the illnesses are envious of others and want something that accompanies treatment (e.g., attention from a counselor or parent, an excuse for something, etc).”

Whether seeking attention or truly believing having a mental illness is something beautiful; depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, anorexia or any other disorder is not something of envy.

How many times in your life have you heard, “stop acting so depressed,” “stop being so bipolar.” If someone isn’t eating one day we all have the tendency to blurt out, “you’re anorexic.” Four out of five times kids don’t have the disorder we so often nonchalantly label them with. However, one out of five times, they do.

Muhs agrees that students can use terms inappropriately: “This type of talk can hurt the person involved and others actually struggling with the illness.” Though Muhs argues “[there has] been more openness on this topic, which is a great step forward in educating the population about these illnesses.”

Tumblr can also be physically damaging as well as mentally harmful.

Jane (name changed), a blogger for almost a year now, frequently posts pictures of incredibly skinny teenagers, with unhealthy bodies. She follows various “thigh-gap” blogs, which only post pictures and texts containing ‘inspiration’ to have a “thigh gap,” or other protruding bones in the body. According to teen psychologist Barbara Greenberg, “statistics show that 80 percent of girls dislike their bodies by the time they are 17 years old. That, combined with a tendency to overshare, makes teen girls vulnerable to even the most subtle messages.” And Tumblr provides these messages. These blogs provide girls with extremely dangerous ways to achieve the “perfect body,” and it has become subtle brainwashing.

The same type of blogs exist for depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Blogs, boards, and tweets promote that having a mental disorder makes you mysterious and more attractive. It gives girls the idea that being depressed, sad, and alone will attract someone who can “fix” you. It gives girls the idea that harming themselves is a way to show the world that they take pride in their depression.

 

Muhs said, “Social media has helped spread the word about mental illnesses…I think that has helped people realize that it’s okay to ask for help and seek treatment. I prefer to use the word ‘treatable’ instead of ‘fixable’, and of course, the amount of treatment and support depends on the specific illness and person.”

Daniel Craig, in an interview for the film Some Voices said, “[In the film] I didn’t want to do a zoo show. I didn’t want to do a study of someone with mental illness. I just wanted to show someone who was trying to live their life.”

That’s what teenagers suffering from these illnesses are trying to do, live their life. They don’t need exploitation or degradation of their problems. They don’t deserve abuse for their problems. They don’t want to be “tragically beautiful,” they just want to be normal. They just want to live. Even if that means living in an ugly, twisted, distorted mental state.

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