Is Generation Z Glorifying Those Who Have Mental Health Issues?

I think that many people look at younger generations and think that they’re getting a lot right – they care about the environment, they don’t care much about other people’s sexuality or cultural background, and they’re far more willing to talk about – and accept those – who struggle with mental health issues.

Some people think that, when it comes to the latter thing, kids are glorifying those struggles rather than simply normalizing them, though.

CMV: Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues especially among Gen Z and Millennials, has began to be treated lightly and too often thrown around & glorified/romanticized.
byu/felicityaerie inchangemyview

This Redditor is on that bandwagon, and is asking people to change his mind.

Let’s see whether or not these 15 people can get the job done.

15. We’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize.

I’d much rather people who don’t have a mental health problem think they have a problem and work on treating it than have people who actually do have a problem feel like their issues aren’t bad enough to treat.

Also just because you laugh at something and make memes about it doesn’t mean that you aren’t also taking it seriously. Sometimes dark humor is how people cope with seriously bad shit. I’ve had someone threaten to rape me until I turned straight and another person threaten to “shove broken glass up [my] dyke ass.” I still make plenty of jokes about homophobia. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get disturbed by the threats.

Trust me, I remember them because they scared me shitless. However that encourages me to make memes. Humor can be a coping strategy to deal with the bad stuff in life. It’s a way of reframing it so that there’s a silver lining to a very dark cloud. Making jokes about a subject means that I’m in control of it. I’m no longer just a victim; I can use use humor as a tool to change the situation.

14. More people are being diagnosed every year.

A lot of diseases and conditions have been diagnosed drastically more often in the last decades.

Diagnosis is getting better, healthcare is getting better, education is getting better, society is moving forward and so is the mental health sector, people are being diagnosed more often with anything than they ever have and you could even chalk that up to population growth.

13. More public and romanticized aren’t the same thing.

I would say that overall, mental health issues have become more public issues rather than romanticized.

While there are public cases of these issues being romanticized, they are more rare than common.

12. If people need help, they should get it.

Some of it seems to be a watered-down effect. Log on to Reddit and depending on what post you follow it is nothing but depression and anxiety.

another issue is people are doing a lot of self-diagnosing. Especially with anxiety. Anxiety is a perfectly natural feeling to have, and some individuals seem to think if they have any anxiety at all it is debilitating.

there is definitely a lot of mental illness situations out there and hopefully they can get some help if they need it.

11. Some people agree.

I’d say this is true.

My mom taught special education for 30 years until about 20 years ago. She has told me that she personally didn’t see a “rise in autism”, for example, but instead a better understanding of it. She has said frankly that kids she taught in the 80s who were medically labeled “retarded” would, today, be 100% understood as autistic. And that, largely, has come from wider understanding and publicity.

As it is, I received an official diagnosis of autism last year. As I was growing up even my special education teacher mother couldn’t see it, because therapists had almost no understanding of the broad spectrum, and more specifically, how ASD presents in girls as opposed to boys. NOW, when I told her of my diagnosis, she said “ya know, I see it now. All your “quirks” growing up were absolutely symptomatic of autism, but because you weren’t throwing tantrums and were so well spoken, I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.”

Frankly, I believe every human would benefit from therapy. If this new approach to mental illness of glibness and humor and acceptance facilitates more people feeling comfortable doing it then that’s great!

10. Too many assumptions are being made.

You seem to be very concerned about how other people think and talk about their own mental health, in a way which is very organized around passing judgment on them for how they do it. You’ve developed a lot of ideas about how you think other people “should” – according to you – think and talk and behave about their feelings and mental illnesses, which you justify as being because the ways they are thinking and talking and behaving are – you assert – not good for them.

Even if it were true that other people were Doin’ Mental Illness All Rong – which, no, but I’ll explain more in a moment – that wouldn’t justify your taking it upon yourself to police other people’s self-expression.

Please don’t do that. It is not kind and it is not helpful. Nothing about that sort of judgmentalism is helpful to promoting mental health or reducing the stigma on mental health.

What you are doing is, in fact, minimizing other people’s mental health problems. You are dismissing other people’s mental health problems as not real or valid based on little or no information about them, and based on your poorly informed lay-person’s understanding.

Several times now, I’ve encountered strangers on the internet making flip passing jokey comments about killing themselves – which seems to be exactly the thing and the sort of people you are dismissing – and reached out to them privately, only to discover they were, actually, acutely suicidal and not under any sort of psychiatric care whatsoever, and, yeah, actually did need someone to rescue them. Sometimes I’ve done this, and found out, they did have mental health care, and it was being dealt with – but they were grateful to find out someone noticed and was looking out for them.

Your assumption that if someone is being flip or jokey about something to do with mental illness, it must be because they don’t really have the condition and are “taking it lightly”, is, uh, wildly wrong.

If you really want to be helpful, when someone does something like that, don’t invalidate them under the mistaken assumption they couldn’t really mean it, validate that if that’s what’s happening for them, that’s a real problem and you’re concerned for them. Stop discouraging people from expressing themselves, and start encouraging people to take their concerns about themselves seriously and seek out mental health care. If you want to be a real hero, step up and offer to help them get help, because the frustrating thing about mental health conditions is they often make it hard to get it together enough to seek out mental health care.

Which brings me to my next point. You might object to all that I have written here, saying, “Oh, well, it’s not like I ever express my opinion to anyone else. I keep all this to myself.” It’s not just other people this sort of policing is bad for.

It’s also bad for your mental health. I am not at all surprised you wrote this:

Would like input on this; this has been a view I’ve held for a long time and I’ve started to notice my own prejudices getting the best of me – like thinking my friends are “exaggerating” or not thinking critically about their problems and just turning to emotional responses (like being sad, complaining, crying, etc.) even if their problems seem like they could be easily fixed.
Your self-description of your attitude about how others speak of mental illness really struck me in how unsympathetic it was to the suffering of others. What you described is in effect your arguing yourself out of being sympathetic; you are manufacturing and rehearsing to yourself in your head reasons why other people aren’t deserving of your empathy and compassion because of how they express themselves around their mental health. And if you do that, this is where it winds up: having less and less patience with one’s friends and loved ones, being more and more irritated with their struggles, being more and more exasperated and fed up with them. Go down this path and you’ll start to automatically deride and dismiss their problems as invalid, unreal, trivial, and just all-round unworthy of respect.

I mean, you don’t sound like you like your friends very much; from your description, it sounds like you have contempt for them because of your low opinion of how they handle their problems. If that’s how you really feel about them, maybe you need different friends. But if these are people you actually do like and care about, or at least would like to care about, you are not being very caring towards them if this is how you regard them.

Also, allow me to warn you, if you are responding coldly to the woes of people who have heretofore thought of you as a friend, there is a thing that can happen where they become even more demonstrative and dramatic in their expression of their woe, in an automatic and unconscious up-regulation of affect to try to impress upon you how serious their distress is. In other words, one possible scenario here, based on what you report, is that your very rejection of sympathy could be responsible for making your friends more dramatic in your direction.

Finally, there one more very important ramification for your own mental health of holding the attitude you explain here.

There’s no doubt a whole variety of reasons someone might express the attitude you do here about how other people should express themselves around issues to do with mental illness, but one pattern in particular stands out as common and important to address.

One reason someone might go around simmering with disapproval at what other people term depression and anxiety is that they’re applying to others the standard they’re applying to themselves: they’re going around thinking things like, “Well, I feel that way all the time, and you don’t hear me calling it depression,” and “Sheesh, everyone feels like that – I feel like that – it doesn’t mean it’s actual anxiety,” and “People need to just suck it up and deal, the way I suck it up and deal; you don’t seem me complaining and making a fuss, do you?”

Hey. Hey. If this is you, you get to take your own mental health seriously. You don’t need to be a certain minimal level of mental illness or debility to seek out mental health care. Don’t know where you are or what your resources are like, but here in the US, anybody can go see a therapist. Just having a difficult time is all the justification you need.

Paying for it’s another question entirely, and I’m happy to talk to you about it; also, now is a kind of difficult time to find an available therapist, as what with the global pandemic we’re all going through with tremendously bad consequences for a lot of people’s mental health, I understand the whole profession is slammed right now.

But point is: you don’t need to minimize and invalidate your own symptoms and difficulties. And that’s something that can be both cause and effect of minimizing and invalidating other’s symptoms and difficulties. Whatever you’re going through is real and important, and you deserve help and sympathy and respect, too.

And even if you are not presently in need of mental health care, if you insist on persisting with this judgmental attitude, should you ever be in need of mental health care in the future, you will have put yourself in a situation where you will have a hard time having sympathy for yourself and your struggles enough to get help. You will likely delay getting treatment because you minimize your symptoms and tell yourself you should just get over it all ready and stop being weak and just stop feeling that way; and while that’s happening, your life may start to spiral out of control, losing jobs, relationships, opportunities, and capacity to manage your physical health.

This is a juncture where people can fall into substance abuse, as they attempt to self-medicate their psychiatric problems with intoxicants, trying to drown their sorrows in booze or brace themselves against anxiety with liquid courage. Having a judgmental attitude about what qualifies as “real” mental illness just gets turned against oneself, and prolongs the period between first developing the problem and finally getting help with it. And the longer that period is, the more opportunity the problem has to screw up your life.

So I propose that the number one reason you shouldn’t be so judgy about how people express themselves about their mental health is so you don’t do yourself a grave disservice, whether now, if you’re already having difficulties, or at some future date, should something bad happen.

9. Joking doesn’t mean it’s not real.

I mean, I’ve been institutionalized for mental illness in a psychiatric hospital before. We joked about our illnesses all the time. Some aspects of mental illness are inherently funny – like, for example, not being able to have shoelaces to prevent self harm. Like, who would hurt themselves with a shoelace?

When people make jokes about mental illness, it’s a coping mechanism. It helps to prevent the encroaching bitterness and resentment that comes with these types of conditions.

Romanticization of mental illness isn’t the same as using comedy to express your illness. Romanticization usually occurs when media fails to depict the realistic sufferings that come with disease. Issues arise because the negatives of the affliction aren’t accurately represented, and can increase the stigma around the ‘uglier’ parts of mental illness.

8. Some people may be romanticizing it.

I can agree that the seriousness is declining with every generation. I think a big problem with it is that with Gen Z their entire life is so incredibly self centered. Gen Z is Gen ‘Me’ and everyone wants to be special. My boyfriend (he’s Gen Z I’m slightly older and have never been into social media) was a victim of this himself.

He was having issues and acting out as a 13 year old and cutting (it was VERY popular in my school. Most of the girls tried it at some point often times at parties) and having general behavior issues, so his parents took him to a therapist and asked the therapist to diagnose their kid and get pills to ‘’fix’ it. They took him to two different ones and probably would have taken him to more if the second hadn’t diagnosed him as bipolar and recommended he get on meds. It wasn’t until last year that it was established his same therapist did not think he was bipolar. Which he’s 10/10 not (it runs in my family I don’t have it but I have known several family members to).

These kids act out in ways they learn about as being characteristic of whatever their mental illness of choice is and their parents need answers as to why. I think it’s primarily subconscious but there is no doubt in my mind that it has been INSANELY romanticized the past 10 years.

Oh and I should specify what happened in my high school/middle school culture to trigger everyone cutting and wanting to be mentally ill. The year before I started as a freshman a girl killed herself. From talking to my older cousins this mentally ill fad was not present before I started high school. By the time I was a sophomore everyone was cutting. By the time I was a senior two more had killed themselves. By the time my boyfriend graduated I think there was a total of 4/5 more and people would openly talk about what meds they were on as a weird pseudo status for the alt kids.

It’s a weird thing but I’ve definitely observed it

7. That’s certainly…a take.

Millennials and Gen Zs never had mental health issues to begin with. They have no reason to. Their lives are so easy. They have everything handed to them by their parents.

They just keep calling themselves “depressed” because they all want to be the victim. They see racism and homophobia in everything. And they will lie about their race and sexual orientation just to get noticed.

If you’re millennial or Gen Z and you claim to be depressed you’re really just weak and entitled.

6. It could be a coping mechanism.

I’m ok with the self deprecation and jokes/memes since that is a coping mechanism for many, MANY people. I think it’s better that those who are suffering feel free to express it openly in a way that makes them feel comfortable rather than suffer in silence, internalizing everything until they mentally implode.

At the same time, I do think some people tend to conflate being sad/in mourning/other temporary feelings with being truly melancholy/depressed. I think that, provided doctors are being responsible and not treating people with medications that can have serious side effects when they aren’t needed, it’s a good thing and really just part of the learning process. I know personally I had reverse culture shock when I moved back to the US and it caused me to become extremely depressed but nobody was talking about depression back when this happened so I had no idea what was wrong or why I felt the way I did.

After a couple sad breakups, deaths in the family and other disappointments I finally started to see (and feel) the difference between a temporary state of sadness and real depression. I also learned the difference between being stressed out and being truly anxious and, most surprisingly, that depression and anxiety could (and often do) nefariously co-exist. The fact the people are more open now about mental illness shortens that learning curve and doesn’t make people feel stigmatized when they do have an issue; I would argue that is an unquestionable net positive.

5. Things aren’t getting worse.

I think your stance is incorrect in that you suggest this is a newer or worsening phenomenon and I dont think it is.

Maybe older works dont use the WORDS for the disorders but Basic Instinct is about fetishizing BPD. But let’s go way back…gothic literature is over a century old and explores themes of madness, guilt, and depression. Depressed artists. Alcoholic authors. It’s a centuries old trend.

Our media is more ubiquitous but people have had access to these themes, and talked about them, spreading ideas, for a long time. I’d argue that our more ubiquitous media actually serves to dilute any one message, blunting any potential problems. A couple hundred years ago the local common house might have weeks to talk about a play featuring madness before something new came along.

4. Two different things.

I think you are mis-conflating “self diagnosis” with “romanticizing mental illness”. Obviously there can be overlap but they are not the same and the rise of self diagnosis did not cause the romanticization or vice versa. Often the romanticizing of mental illness comes from a) people who aren’t seeking treatment attempting to make their situation look nicer/more sympathetic, or b) people who aren’t mentally ill fantasizing about “fixing” someone with mental illness (or a mentally ill person fantasizing about getting a partner who will fix them).

Self-diagnosis is not inherently based in romanticizing mental illness, often it is used by people who cannot obtain professional diagnosis and want to find community, free resources to help themselves, or just have SOMETHING that explains why they behave/feel a certain way. Many reasons for not being able to get diagnosed exist: income [diagnosis is expensive for some disorders that require in-depth screening], lack access to a certain specialist, being prevented from seeing someone by parents/partners/etc, concern about the impact a diagnosis will have on life [lots of therapists will refuse to work with people with BPD, autistic trans people might have their autism used as a reason their doctor denies them transitioning healthcare], etc.

I personally used self-diagnosis for ADHD, something I suspected having for a long time but could not get a diagnosis for because I couldn’t afford to and I live in a rural area with limited specialists. I’m finally getting diagnosed, and it’s probably going to take at least a month to finish the process and hundreds of dollars (who knows how much meds will cost me once that starts). I did it after a lot of research and because I had a lot of problems that I could not solve in the way other people seemed to be able to, so I needed to seek out resources made for people like me. I didn’t want ADHD to be quirky, I wanted someone to LABEL my ADHD so I could get help for it.

To be frank, you’ve got to work on your internalized ableism if this is starting to make you doubt your friends and loved ones when they say they are suffering from mental illness. Many illnesses are considered disabilities (depression can be disabling, my ADHD is a disability) and can make it so we literally just aren’t able to do things in the same way you might. Your friends probably are just turning to emotional responses if they have mental illness because that’s how their brain works.

I spent years trying to figure out why I have such severe emotional responses to criticism/hardship and it turns out it’s because my brain just doesn’t produce the right chemicals to self-regulate. I’m not capable of looking critically at frustrations at certain points because my brain isn’t wired to function properly. Sometimes people DO get to a point where that becomes too much of a burden on others – which is absolutely fair – and they do need a wake-up call/push to get help, but it’s not because they’re genuinely lazy/want excuses, it’s usually because there’s something wrong with the chemistry of their brain that just can’t allow them to process information/circumstances to the same ability as ppl around them.

3. It’s definitely a nuanced argument.

That’s a very flat way to look at it.

Have you considered the effect social media & constant up-to-date information might affect the mental health of people who grew up with the internet?

I’m Gen Z myself and I’m constantly bombarded by terrible news about climate change grief, tragedies and important events I can’t effect but I get information on, as well as cases of cyberbullying. I’m not a simple ‘technology bad’ person because I owe most of my free time to the internet, but we should assess the dangers and implications of our modern world on mental health.

2. This is the bottom line.

If it leads to more people being willing to admit it and get help, does it matter? Shouldn’t the stigma around mental illness evaporating be looked on as a good thing?

Also, if you’re avoiding your problems and refusing to fix them, you obviously have some mental issues that you need to work out.

1. They have a different baseline.

Let’s put it this way. Im a gen z and my first solid memory is the 9/11 attack (I was three going on four). My older millennial co workers laugh when I say this perhaps because it’s too traumatizing to be true, but that’s the truth. And being a kid, I didn’t really feel the trauma yet. I was just watching the news, getting evacuated from places, and listening to my parents talk about it, sort of like , “Well, I guess this is what the world is like”.

This is our baseline of the world. And it only gets worse from there. School shootings ramp up, racism, homophobia, hate crimes, inequitable cost living, college being unreasonably expensive, now a pandemic etc… these things really mount on each other over time. In addition, we are the first generation to have it broadcasted to us at a moments notice; on our phones and computers.

So in short, I think we have a baseline of depression or anxiety that other generations might not have had so pervasively.

So why joke about it? I agree it’s sort of a fked up joke. But so many of us struggle with it- it’s almost become reclamation of our sadness. Joking about k*llng yourself or hating yourself is common in Gen Z/Milennial culture; this is only due to it being engrained in our being.

I would never make a self hatred joke towards a Gen X or Boomer co worker cause they just don’t get it. I do however make them with millennials. Older people will think you need help. Hell maybe we do lol.

I do think there is a bold line between clinical depression and general depression due to our life experience that needs to be drawn. People take the romanticizing too far at times. Largely however, this is a coping mechanism for us.

The dark jokes are uniquely ours and are going to be very interesting to look back on and see the consequences of. I hope despite the sadness we can actually make a difference. Most of us are very socially minded and very progressive.

We were given different challenges than ever before and being told we could fix a problem doesn’t change the fact that the problem exists at large. It’s hard to feel good about anything when you know the larger factors at play.

I definitely think that releasing the stigma when it comes to mental healthcare is worth whatever price we have to pay.

What are your thoughts on this one? Share them with us in the comments!