There is a reason why the middle path is often said to be the golden path. That's because it is better than swinging to the extremes. In this case mental health awareness is great to have but mental health problems becoming the new punk or emo trend is definitely something that needs to be addressed.
There is no denying that we live in strange and difficult times that are taking their toll on our mental health. For those of us that are in their 30’s or 40’s, not old enough to be in the old generation but not really young to be in the new one, we can see how things are becoming more turbulent. People like to scoff at individuals that prefer the 80’s saying that we live in better time now and things always get better. But do they dough? And this is not just a comparison between 2019 and 2021. To say that things have tensed up politically, culturally and economically for the good part of 20-30years now is really an understatement.
Of course, we can sit here and debate all day long whether things are getting worse or better and we still might not find a conclusive answer. That’s because the answer to this question is more nuanced than a yes or a no. There are many things to consider and subjectivity will inevitably sink in. The environment where we grow up, the culture and political climate of our current country, etc. there are so many things to consider. But the main issue here is that even if, let’s say things are getting better, the overall sentiment of people in general is that things are getting worse. Sure, people might not be able to pinpoint when exactly or even why things seem to be getting worse but these oppressing feelings that yes, things are indeed getting worse is having quite an adverse effect on our mental health. Experts say that this oppressing feeling that we have is due in part to the advent of online social media.
One thing that the proponents of the idea that things are getting better like to point out is that things are not worse today than 20-30years ago, it’s just that we are able to see the bad things a lot more easily today than back then. And they are right, sort of. They are right that we can easily access all the terrible things that are happening around us at the push of a button. But it’s not that we can access them, it’s the fact they we are being fed with them.
To study journalism today is to study human psychology. Sure, we can insert a hashtag not all here, but the majority of news media and people working in it know what’s up. You are there just for clicks or views and don’t need to report on what is factual or real or even important. You just need people to come to you. And, in order to that, you need to know what attracts people and what keeps them engaged. Well, in the end they found out: bad news. Bad news sells like your favorite donut on a cold winter day. It seems like humans in general are hardwired to follow bad news and seek it out even if it’s harmful to their state of mind.
So bad news is bad for us, but we sell it since it makes us money. You could summarize it like that but it’s more complicated. Bad news can also affect the population on a large scale and induce mass delusions and hysteria. If you want to keep people under your control it’s as easy as making them afraid and offering a solution to that in exchange for their obedience. We don’t even need to mention the adverse effect this has on the mental health of the population at large.
Another thing that we can easily spot in the news, either online or in life around us is how easily people are assigned labels and also assign labels to others themselves. The psychological effect of a label is quite powerful. Imagine going to the grocery store and seeing a jar with the label “apple jam”. You will be immediately convinced that the jar is a jar of apple jam. I mean it has an official label on it and all, it couldn’t be wrong, could it?
It’s the same with the news. When you hear “official” news channels calling someone a “insert bad label here” you will most of the time believe it. Especially if you have been watching that particular news channel for the longest time now; and you agree with them. And here is the catch. Did you notice it? You probably did not. Why do you have to agree or not with a news channel? Don’t they just report on the news, or in other words the facts? If you still believe that then, I’m afraid I will be forced to label you: naïve. The mainstream media today is powerful enough that they can easily shirk responsibility and completely get away with not only distorting the facts but also outright lying to your face. And since lying makes them a lot more money than telling the truth have a gander at what they are going to do.
We are not saying that all labels are bad, just that people should be careful when it comes to labels. That’s because it has become too common of a practice. So common that entire populations or races are thrown in the same pot. If you are white than you are automatically X, if you are Asian or Black you are Y, if you are Z religion you are seen as….and so on and so forth. Whether you like or voted for certain political candidates you are automatically labeled in a certain way. If you agree with a statement or not, you will be labeled a certain way. Labeling people easily into good and bad categories has warped our view of reality and effected our mental health in a serious manner. We tend to fall into delusions far easier now and into cult like mentality where cognitive dissonance prevents us from critically question certain things towards we have an inherent bias or which are pushed by our “trusted” media overlords.
This leads us to the labels which were thrown around at people suffering of mental illness. The stigma surrounding it made it difficult for a lot of people to talk about their problems and seek help. Especially for young boys and men. They were told to man up and deal with it. They were told that it’s no big deal and everyone suffers nowadays so they should to.
Well, if there is one good thing that came about with the advent of social media is the DE-stigmatization of mental health problems. With people talking about it online under the cover of anonymity, more and more individuals suffering from various mental health problems could start opening up about it and seek help. Mental health awareness has gone a long way and finally reached a point where we can confidently say that people are no longer being faulted for suffering from mental illnesses. Of course, the issue now has become a lack of accessibility. With things getting worse (or being perceived as) mental health problems have increased a lot over the years. The recent pandemic did not help at all, but to be more precise, the handling of the pandemic has made things way worse. From power grabs to politicizing science and medicine, it has all become so convoluted that regular people can’t help but become stressed and depressed. The tensions which are artificially inflated by mainstream media greatly contribute to a declining mental health situation overall.
Labeling people as vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. Demonizing one side while excusing any faults of the other. Creating a completely absurd us vs them mentality. These are just some of the issues created and sustained by an increasingly powerful mass media. And this just adds to the strain on our mental health creating more and more problems.
As more and more labels are thrown around with no care for logic, consistency or truth a good and evil, black and white mentality is being created and inserted into people’s minds. Where there are good people there must be evil ones but most importantly where there are victims there must be a victimizer or abuser. There was a scene in a Japanese anime (anime are the cartoons from Japan) from over 25 years ago which perfectly encapsulates what is happening today. The antagonist was explaining their evil plan (as it often happens) to someone. In it the antagonist said that who would you feel pity for if you see a lion who feel down on a gazelle? Would you even stop to consider if it was trying to eat it or not? Would you even question if it is a lion in the first place? If you play the gazelle in the correct way, the people around you who are against you will all look like lions to others.
So why would anyone in their right mind want to be seen as a victim? Well, first they might not be in their right mind. Studies have shown that there is a link between playing the victim and mental health problems. An avid need for attention coupled with complete lack of empathy are signs that the person playing the victim could need professional help. Second, because there is a lot to gain from it. Our society today stands on the shoulder of giants. People who have excelled in various skills and professions, have brought us into the current era of prosperity. We can say that our society was built on meritocracy. The people that worked hard and achieved great things were the ones to look up to.
But somewhere along the way in our need to virtue signal we have lost our way. We can also blame this on social media like many other things. The instant popularity that you can garner online for seemingly inane things created a hunger in a certain demographic of people. A hunger for instant gratification and easily achievable popularity and/or riches. The question is: how to get popular? There are numerous ways but we are only looking for the easy ones. Among them being weird and/or different is a possibility. Another one is virtue signaling: look at how good and righteous I am! Love me because I dislike the obvious things that most people dislike but I do it publicly! All of these can be signs of underlying mental health problems that should be treated.
But seriously now, what is the easiest way to get attention and gain privilege? It all comes down to being a (fake) victim. Being a victim will get you instant popularity and as a bonus, pity and a large number of white knights ready to defend you in order to virtue signal. So, people started laying the victim and real victims were left somewhere far behind, hidden behind all this insanity. Today the bigger the victim you are the more privilege you get. So, people start accumulating victim cred to build up their victim card. We are now completely at the mercy of the weak and also must cater to all of their needs. And the irony of it all is that most of them just play pretend. We have gotten so far down the rabbit hole that people now want to assume other skin color and race identity to either become a victim or avoid becoming labeled as a victimizer. This is a sign of mass delusion.
This leads us to the latest in the trendy department: having a mental health problem. Yes, when being a victim is not enough you can also be sick so you can garner more pity and attention. Unfortunately, this does not only take away attention from people that really need help but also brings back stigma as well as indifference when it comes to mental health issues. We have just managed to get to the point where we recognized that so many people need help with depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD and phobias only to regress now because some people took it upon themselves to advertise their real or fake illnesses and make them into a “cool” factor.
After the decline of Tumbler (an online social media platform), people, especially young people took to the new phenomenon which is TikTok in order to vie for attention. TikTok is another one of those online platforms that burst into popularity for all the wrong reasons until it becomes too big to be stopped. One of the new ways to get attention now became being afflicted by mental illness. Some look at the rise in popularity of Twitch streamers with Tourette’s syndrome as a cause but it is more complex than that. Teens always wanted to find something that makes them stand out. We all remember or at least have heard of the emo trend, the punk rock, the hippies, etc. And now we have the depressed. But of course, it doesn’t stop there. Depression is way to mainstream for these teens. Having phobias, PTSD and Multiple Personality Disorders, now that is way more niche and because of that, way cooler.
But from my and other people experiences, people who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health problems rarely talk about it with others. They don’t even mention it to their own family let alone on the internet. Why? Because there is no point to it. The goals are completely different. The people showing off their cool new mental illness on TikTok are doing so for attention and “street cred” while the real sufferers hide away their pain until is too late. Why else do we try so hard to bring people out of their shell to the point where VR was and is currently being combined with mental health in order to give people a safe, accessible and anonymous environment that can help them.
Let’s not get things twisted. Normalizing mental health awareness is fine and encouraged. Normalizing mental health problems and making them trendy is bringing great harm to our current mental health system and to the progress we made when it comes to awareness.
So, what can we do? This question should be posed more often today but with the intent in finding a solution and just give up. But instead we only get: oh well and bear with it, or this is the new normal. No! We should not let suffering become the new normal. We should not let depression become just another aspect of everyday life. Our mental health is what drives us forward and keeps us motivated to live our lives to their fullest. If we cast it aside as a permanent disability that we can’t do anything about it will eventually become one.
Our society is currently going through gradual changes. But are these changes for the better or for the worse. If we don’t react in time and do something about it we will inevitably fail to stop an incoming disaster. In this regard the “mental illness is cool” trend needs to be brought under attention to as many people as possible and corrected. Mental health problems are not a joke, they are not there for your entertainment and there are especially not there only so you can get more views and clicks on your social media video!
This is even more important in order to course correct the next generation. If mental health illnesses become just another joke on the internet that people can use in order to garner fame what will our children think when seeing these videos? They will also be teens and have the same mentality of seeking attention and fame as all generations before so we must not let mental health be another tool for that.
If you stuck to the end of this post, we commend you! We hope you will also bring awareness to mental health and also to the attention-seeking youths who don’t know better. Maybe there needs to be a closer look on how social media makes people avid for attention and how this can have very detrimental effects on our mental health. The problem stems of course from too much power which is currently in the hands of several giants who would never stop making money just for our “peace of mind”. This is why we need to fight together to either innovate by bringing VR into the picture and helping people with accessibility, affordability and anonymity or by changing entirely how our social media prays on young unassuming minds and makes them crave for attention. We say let’s do both. Let’s change how things are panning our and “jump out” before it’s too late!