Recognising the Romanticisation of Mental Illnesses And Why It Must Be Stopped

By Nengvanghoi Hangsing


I have a friend who gives a lot more love and support than she receives.

Her bright, cheerful and perky personality warms me up when I’m feeling down, and it is our friendship that I’ve learnt to cherish. She is also diabetic and suffers from mild depression and insomnia.

You were likely unsurprised, and that’s because we live in a time where the topic of mental illness is a lot more discussed and accepted in society. However, while this topic is being more recognised, the younger generations have fallen victim to misunderstandings regarding mental illnesses due to a few flawed portrayals of mental health issues in movies, books and the media. I , a teenager myself, have seen alarming outcomes of these misconceptions unfold before my very eyes, one of which is the romanticisation of mental illnesses.

By definition, to ‘romanticise’ means to glamorize or idealize something, treating it better than it really is. It is this idealizing of mental illnesses that needs to be stopped among the youth.

Pop culture, which refers to cultural aspects like music, fashion, drama, literature, film or the media, is the main malefactor.

For instance, the most common trend in TV shows is to create interesting characters with special abilities that make them unique and ‘cool’. However, some TV writers go as far as making the characters seem like they have a mental illness, or at least, a few of the symptoms. So now, the youth wish not only to become that ‘cool’ character, but also to adopt abilities like hearing voices or hallucinating; and these are some symptoms of illnesses like schizophrenia, delirium, dementia, et cetera.

In pop culture, this is most famously portrayed by the character “Harley Quinn”, from the 2016 film “Suicide Squad.” Despite of her character being depicted as a supervillain, the majority of the audience have fallen in love with her ‘quirkiness’一 which is a result of her visual and auditory hallucinations. This romanticising is evident during events like Halloween, when young girls unconsciously glorify Harley Quinn by dressing up as her character. Why? They desire to be as ‘badass’ as her.

According to website ABC 33/40, following the release of the 2017 teen drama, ‘13 Reasons Why’, there have been two copycat suicides committed by teenagers. The young girls reportedly idealized the popularity the main character received after she committed suicide on the show. One of the girls even wrote letters to the people she loved, just like how the main character left cassette tapes for her perpetrators.

If this is not the worst case of romanticising mental illness, I don’t know what is.

Even social networking websites on the Internet such as Tumblr, Instagram and YouTube have become common platforms for the youth to embrace the wrong view on mental health problems. You have probably seen images posted by young Tumblr users who portray illnesses like depression as ‘beautifully tragic’. One image I found on Tumblr shows a caricature of a person’s lower body with slits inflicted from self harm with the caption, “it feels like the entire universe runs through my veins and sometimes I just need to let it out.”


This person wasn’t crying out for help, but for ‘likes’.

This is madness!


We are living in a generation where the youth believe that their bleeding body symbolizes their crying soul.

We are living in a generation where the youth glamorize mental illnesses.

We are living in a generation where self harm has become a trend.


And that is so sad.


When I see some of my friends make light of this issue and go as far as passing ignorant comments, I get offended, and I’m not even suffering from a mental illness!

Refrains like, “I tidied up my bed this morning, my dude, I swear to god I have OCD…”



The problem is that we never know who may be suffering.

This is why we should think twice before we speak about any serious issue, such as this.

Think about the victims. While many teenagers fake mental illnesses for the ‘aesthetic’ of it, the few who are actually suffering choose to do so quietly.


They are the real victims of our ignorance.


Works Cited

  1. Serani. ’13 Reasons Why’: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,
    • Founded in 1967, Psychology Today has been circulated over 200,000 times in New York itself. This article addresses the wrong portrayals of people with mental illness in a famous TV show that is misleading for the younger audience. The writer is a trained psychologist.
  2. “NAMI.” NAMI,
    • The National Alliance of Mental Illness is an American based, non-profit advocacy group with around 1,000 state and local affiliates represented in 50 U.S. States. This article provides the statistics of Americans with mental illnesses.  
  3. Grigley. “Family of Teen Who Committed ’13 Reasons Why’ Copycat Suicide Urges Netflix to Cancel Show.” WBMA,
    • ABC 33/40 is the brand name for the WBMA-LD television station in Birmingham, Alabama. This source addresses the suicide story of a 14 year old girl who commited suicide with inspiration from the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”.
  4. “Exploring Harley Quinn’s Mental Health Through Her Journey.” ComicsVerse, 8 Aug. 2018,
    • ComicsVerse is a comics journalism website that addresses and analyzes social issues regarding minority representation in pop culture. Established in 2012, it has been recognised by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. This source analyzes the mental health of DC comic character ‘Harley Quinn’, who’s popular among the younger audience.