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T-shirts that reference mental illnesses have become trendy and mask the struggles of individuals that are affected.

*This article contains sensitive subjects about mental health and mental illness.

“My OCD is so bad.” “I was so depressed yesterday.” “This test is giving me anxiety.” “She was acting like a psycho.”

People with mental health issues have been hearing people who do not struggle with a mental illness say these harmful phrases repeatedly. As conversations about mental health become mainstream, it is important to address how the banalization and commercialization of those serious topics have become an issue.

The conversation about mental health has been trending more in recent years. Role models, celebrities and other people with big platforms have been stepping forward to talk about their experiences with their mental health issues. These individuals have also been advocating for increased resources and research on the topic.

However, there are some people taking advantage of the fact that conversations surrounding mental health are gaining platform to “hop on the trend” for personal gain. These people act as though having anxiety, depression or a personality disorder is something “quirky” and “cool” as opposed to being a serious issue.

This has led to two serious problems. The first being the commercialization of mental illness. Nowadays, it is not so rare to see young people walking around with colorful shirts saying “I’ve got anxiety,” or “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome” almost as if bipolarity or anxiety were brands and not actual disorders.

One will probably never see a shirt full of colorful hearts saying “I have smallpox” or “I love chronic heart failure” or anything related to having a physical health issue. So why is society not giving the same respect to mental illnesses? Why do physical health problems get the serious tone and respect while mental illnesses get the “funny” jokes and “cute” merch?

This commercialization of mental illness brings us to the second problem of the “quirky-zation” of mental illnesses: they stop being seen as illnesses.

One could see this taking shape in many different forms. A dangerous form that takes shape is self-diagnosis. While someone should never start saying they have a physical disorder unless a medical doctor tells them so, it is more common to see people saying they have mental illnesses because they saw a meme or a funny TikTok about said illness.

The logic behind this sort of content seems to be something like: “if you like your room clean, you must have OCD,” “if you feel worried before a test, you definitely have anxiety,” “if you have a hard time communicating with others, you probably are autistic,” etc.

While it is okay to sympathize with others that are overcoming their illness and join in on the conversation, pretending to have something you do not have does more harm than good, especially if you try to speak on behalf of those struggling.

That becomes a problem because not only does it banalize the seriousness of illnesses but also forces stereotypes surrounding them. Not everyone who feels deep sadness or sorrow has depression. Sadness is a natural human feeling that everyone is bound to feel at some point in their lives.

On the other hand, not everyone who has depression will look like a big ball of sadness all the time. As a matter of fact, one can never simply look at a person and “figure out” that they are struggling with any sort of mental illness. After all, most of those illnesses are also called “hidden disabilities” for a reason: they are hidden.

Another problem regarding those negative stereotypes is the way it impacts societal views on those mental issues. These stereotypes can lead people to believe that the struggles faced by those who have a mental illness are less valid or that these people are faking it or being dramatic, and sometimes it can lead people to assume that others are dangerous.

If people begin to think that those with a mental illness are faking it or their struggles are not as serious, they could be denied access to help and resources they might need.

Those with mental illnesses are valid. They are not dangerous. They are human beings, and we should be trying to help. The first course of action should be to recognize our biases and actions and talk to those that are affected so we can better understand what they are dealing with.

Mental illness is not pretty. It is not fun to struggle. It is not fair to glamorize the sufferings of other people and speak for them. Everyone needs to do their part so we can better tackle mental illness and other mental health related issues.

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