By Kennedy Smith
As a 16-year-old girl scrolls through her “for you” page on TikTok, with each swipe of her thumbs she witnesses multiple influencers hysterically crying and filming their mental breakdowns as they use dry and dark humor to make light of their situations. Is this the new normal?
Many social media users are noticing a new trend throughout platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. These social media platforms are flooded with tear-filled melodramatic posts hashtagging “depressed.” The trend begs the question, are mental health illnesses like depression being glorified and romanticized, or are millennials eradicating the stigma?
According to a 2017 study titled “Mental Disorders: A Glamorous Attraction on Social Media?” “Nowadays, anorexia nervosa, self-harm, depression, anxiety disorders, and many other mental health disorders are being glamorized, romanticized, and consequently promoted through many social media platforms.”
The National Network of Depression Center’s website states that “depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44.” So why would people want to glorify this disease?
Rakan Munjed, a social media influencer who has over 5.8 million likes on TikTok and is a student at Miami University in Ohio, said that videos where social media users are oversharing and joking about their mental health illnesses and filming their emotional breakdowns generate a large number of interactions “because people are deeply moved when seeing others show extreme emotions.”
Lily Sais, a licensed school psychologist at Larchmont Charter School in Los Angeles, compared this behavior to a Drew Barrymore film where she would be a troubled, suffering girl looking for someone to come and save her.
Sais said that she thinks some people share over-emotional posts for attention in order to show, “I’m suffering…I’m in pain, can anybody relate? Or they’re overblowing it and they’re not in a place of suffering and just want to make connections.”
Besides the “damsel in destress” archetype, some influencers, mental health advocates and psychologists believe that when users post themselves crying and having mental breakdowns, they’re creating a space for other victims of mental health disorders to speak up and feel heard.
Munjed said that this behavior is a coping mechanism for people who are suffering. “Some people might do it solely for the views while others do it simply because they feel compelled to and it’s a way for them to process their emotions…It offers a place to receive comfort from people when you aren’t getting it in your everyday life.”
Sais said that the pandemic may be a cause for the spike of depression and other mental health illnesses affecting social media users today. “I think this is an unprecedented time where a lot of people are missing out on social interactions or positive connections which they would have with their teachers and peers, and sometimes home might not be the healthiest place, or if they’re not moving on getting out in the sun as much.”
Rachel Brady, a mental health advocate and @shotstoshakes account owner on Tik Tok, said that for some, this trend of being emotionally transparent on social media is therapeutic.
“I think for some it’s a form of grieving and almost asking for help…When we show ourselves in such a vulnerable state, it goes directly against the social media grain of having it all together. It showcases how we struggle and how we can feel alone at times,” she said.
Brady has over 3.5 million likes on TikTok where she posts what she calls “mediocre recovery content.”
Anania Williams, a social media influencer with over 1.7 million followers on TikTok, said that millennials aren’t romanticizing mental illnesses on social media, but instead eradicating the stigma behind mental health, which is causing awareness.
“People are getting more comfortable in sharing personal problems on the internet. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something to acknowledge — people are feeling comfortable being vulnerable to strangers,” Williams said.
Sais, the owner of TikTok account @peacefromwithin, which has 2.4 million likes, has used her platform to post emotionally stimulating content catering to people who deal with depression and anxiety. In one video you can see Sais cry. She said a lot of people thanked her for opening up and making them feel heard.
This new trend on TikTok and other social media platforms that older generations may call dramatic and theatrical, has proven to be a positive outlet for children and young adults dealing with severe mental health issues.