top of page

It's Not So Romantic

This article discusses themes of mental illness and suicide which could be distressing to some readers.

Throughout history, society has taken a long time to start to accept and understand people who experience a mental health condition. In years gone by, those who were seen as different from the norm were locked away from mainstream society. Fortunately, in the modern day, we have an increased awareness of what it means to suffer with a mental illness. This widespread understanding of the realities of mental health disorders is an extremely important step towards ending the stigma around mental illness and its severe consequences. Everywhere we go from the books we read, to the shows we binge, the conversation surrounding mental illness is more open than ever before. However, as we start to further accept and understand the conditions of mental health disorders, we could run the risk of taking things a step too far.

browsing series

Going as far back as the famous works of William Shakespeare, the romanticisation of mental illness and suicide is not a new phenomenon. I am sure we are all familiar with the famous tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, a tale of two young people who shared a love so strong they chose to end their lives to be together. These romanticised stories of suicide are still prevalent in modern film and television. From the dark and brooding misunderstood sociopath Tate Langford and his suicidal girlfriend Violet in American Horror Story, to the psychotic killer, Jason Dean of Heathers, popular film and TV culture creates problematic idols. By placing highly adored and even sexualised actors and actresses such as Evan Peters, Christian Slater, Heath Ledger, and Margot Robbie into iconic roles playing psychopaths this gives people ample opportunity to have a psychotic heartthrob.

Why is romanticising mental illness and suicide dangerous?

To me, suicide is not some romantic act of true love but the act of someone so desperate to stop their suffering they cannot face another day. It seems that in recent years the idea of having a mental illness has gone from something we feared to something that we could go as far to describe as ‘desired’. The severity of mental illness has been overthrown by the glossy idea that a tortured soul is a beautiful soul. An example of its reduced severity is how the word ‘depressed’ has become a colloquial term to describe feeling unhappy. This can be dangerous as it could prevent someone who is truly experiencing the symptoms of depression from reaching out for help as they have come to believe that this is a natural emotion. Even within recent music, the seriousness of mental illness is not recognised and used as everyday language. A recent song that portrays this idea well is PSYCHO by Anne Marie which reduces psychotic behaviour to the natural emotions felt after a heartbreak. Not only does this minimise the severity of these conditions but it creates an unhelpful narrative which will cause confusion in understandings of specific mental illnesses.

Research has shown that people who are vulnerable can be easily influenced by things they see within the media, therefore the idea that suicide is an escape for someone who is ‘too beautiful for this world’ is extremely unsafe. By utilising the emotional turmoil that comes with the act of suicide to captivate and entertain an audience, there is a risk that we begin to normalise suicide.

Is it all wrong?

No, the entertainment industry does not always get it wrong. There are plenty of films and shows that do not glorify mental illness and strive to present an accurate representation of mental health disorders. A personal favourite of mine is ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ which provides a musical journey through a women’s search for the right diagnosis. The show talks openly about the symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD and personality disorders as well as showing suicide in a way that is not sensationalised or beautiful. Although I understand this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are plenty of other shows out there that help to end the stigma of mental health.

mental illness

Can mental illness ever be ‘beautiful’?

I feel it is important to say that whilst we are spreading the message that mental illness is not something to be romanticised and desired, it is important to not diminish the creativity that can spark from mental illness. Referencing back to a tortured soul, Vincent Van Gogh is the perfect example of an artist who used his mental struggles to create something beautiful. Another more recent example of outsider art is a man named Ron Gittens. After passing away, his family discovered his home was covered wall to wall with incredible pieces of artwork and with the help of the local community, they have preserved his home as an art exhibition.

The main message here is that mental illness itself is not beautiful or something that should be seen as desirable. However, that does not mean those who suffer cannot go forth and create something beautiful with their lives.


bottom of page