Elana Quartararo, a generation Zer like me, said in a New York Times editorial much like this one, “Like it or not, social media has given us a way not only to speak out, but to educate ourselves and expand our minds in a way that is unprecedented.” Today is abundant in its impact.
Sadly, it’s also becoming abundant in mental illness. In 2017 alone, 31% of students said they had feelings of hopelessness, and 17% said they had considered suicide. It’s frightening. But what I find even more frightening is that people have begun sexualizing these statistics.
Honestly, mental illness was unknowingly sexualized back to the age of Shakespeare. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia herself was impacted by the first hysteria-studying psychologists of the age. Actresses portraying Ophelia were invited into asylums to understand her behaviors, and even her name had been turned into a nickname for asylum inmates. It was first believed that hysteria itself was caused by the desire for sex and/or childbirth.
Take a look at today’s media and think about it. Messy hair, glassy eyes, disjointed speech, and inappropriate nudity were all the signs of old-age “hysteria,” and now we unknowingly use these signs sexually. Films like Vertigo and Lilith liberally used references to them. Characters like Harley Quinn – who did, in fact, have a background working for an asylum – use references, too. The show 13 Reasons Why in now not seen as the tragic end of a life as much as the scavenger hunt for our male protagonist and a showcase of school drama.
And recently, an online comic my friend enjoyed reading was put on hiatus because readers had begun to drop the veil of common media. There were comments blatantly referring to things such as self-induced scars as sexy. And I wonder, why? Do they not hear their words? I can acknowledge that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Anybody facing depression, anxiety, ADHD, or anything else of the sort is strong beyond their years, confronting the challenges. I don’t see the scars as something to be hidden, more so something to say that while you’ve hurt yourself, you are brave and strong and should know that you don’t need to inflict this upon yourself. You are a person, with a life, and there’s nothing more valuable than that. But I won’t call your scars sexy. I won’t encourage you to cut yourself to please a partner. Please, recognize this corrupt stereotype of beauty. Tell those you love, see how they respond. Bring light to this undercover epidemic. Stop it before cutting yourself becomes not a sign of mental illness, but the next trend.