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CHOC Teen Advisers Weigh in on NYT Article “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness”

In response to a recent New York Times article titled “Please Stop Merchandising Mental Illness,” the CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council weighed in on our culture’s tendency to romanticize mental illness. The CHOC Children’s Teen Advisory Council is made up of outstanding teens who are active in their community, committed to academic success, and support CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children.

Armed with examples of what they see and hear in each of their schools, they discuss how each of us can do our part to put an end to the misconception that having a mental illness is trendy.

Do you have other ideas? Leave them in the comments below. We want to hear from you!

Layla, age 13

Slogans and quotes can be printed on a bag or shirt quicker than people can think about what it really means. Sometimes, people can say things before they have a chance to think about what they are saying. For example, a word we use commonly is crazy. It may seem innocent, but crazy can mean different things to different people. We have to be more aware when choosing our words. Instead of using words like crazy and insane, describe something unusual as strange or bizarre. If we make little changes, it can slowly make a difference.

Carina, age 15

Most people don’t fully understand anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses. On social media you find people talking about it all the time, which is great as it brings more awareness and allows people with actual mental illnesses to share their stories. However, it has become almost a cool thing to say on these platforms. Social media and TV shows have a part to play in the growth of mental illnesses being “trendy” and also bringing more awareness to it, but they could do more to provide real education. People don’t understand what mental illness is, and some just believe that anxiety and depression, for example, are just feelings.

I see some of this happening at my school. In most cases I hear the phrase, “Ugh, ______ gives me anxiety” when in reality, they mean stressed and it usually has to do with tests, quizzes or an upcoming presentation. I’m not sure if they do actually have anxiety. However, most people I hear use the term very loosely and should be more careful with their word choice.

Cameron, age 15

It doesn’t surprise me that people romanticize mental illness. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting attention; humans are a social species and attention is essential for self-esteem and social skills. Many people who romanticize mental illness don’t have these illnesses; instead it is them asking for attention or validation. However, people are trying to normalize terms like depression or anxiety, almost in an effort for people to see an exaggerated version of their emotions. Something that comes to mind is a shirt that I’ve seen others wear that depicts an adorable coffee cup with the phrase, “No Coffee Makes Me Depresso” My friend pointed out to me how the shirt was problematic. Odds are that not having coffee doesn’t make this person depressed. I dismissed it as a poor excuse for a joke, but thinking about it, it was a call for attention. Not having coffee doesn’t make you depressed. It may make you upset or even feel a little off, but it doesn’t make you depressed, something experienced by millions of Americans. Depression is a widespread illness that shouldn’t be joked about in this way.

Celebrities are also extremely vocal about mental illness, which can be both good and bad. If many people speak out about mental illness, the suffering can start to seem normal. It then becomes this situation where when someone comes forth with their struggles and they are met with responses like, “So does everyone else” or “It’s not just you” which can invalidate their feelings. After all, it’s normal, right? If there’s nobody with social influence speaking out, who’s going to inspire those struggling by themselves to come forward? Society is complicated, but for now we just need to develop an understanding for each other and extend a helping hand to those who feel helpless.

As a society, we must grow to learn that mental illness is a serious issue, not something that we weave into our everyday lives for the sake of seeming trendy or getting attention. We’re only human and we make mistakes, but it’s time we fix our mistakes.

Alyssa, age 14

My first reaction to these claims is that we should be mindful that people express themselves different ways. We may not agree with how they do it, but it’s best to perceive their actions with some empathy and take the extra step to see if they are trying to reach out. Fashion has always been a form of expression so by people expressing their feelings with a necklace that says “anxiety” or an article of clothing that says “sad” that could be a way of expressing themselves or a cry for help. Mental illness should never be seen as a joke and should be taken seriously. Mental illness should never be trendy and should be talked about more, so if having an article of clothing or a piece of jewelry with the words “anxiety” or “depression” sparks up a conversation, then that’s a positive thing for people who care about helping people with these illnesses because it spreads awareness

Heather, age 14

I believe that having issues or being depressed has become a trend recently for adolescents. A while back, the TV show “13 Reasons Why” became popular with teenagers. The show depicts a girl named Hannah going through depression and eventually committing suicide. In my opinion, anyone watching the show who was going through similar stuff that Hannah was going through, would became sad along with her. I thought the show tossed around words like suicide, rape and depression very casually, making these words’ connotation less severe. When words like that are casually tossed around on popular TV shows and in songs we hear on the radio, people begin to use these words in their everyday conversations without really knowing the effect of their word choice. This trend in conversation leads companies to create backpacks, pins, t-shirts and other merchandise with these words in trendy font because it has become an ideal lifestyle for almost every teenager. Whenever people come across a difficult or stressful situation they often say ‘I’m gonna commit’ or “kms’’ which stands for kill myself. By casually using serious words in everyday conversation, some of these intense mental health situations have been stripped of their true meaning and are being tossed around like a joke. This is unfair to the people that actually struggle with mental health problems.

Learn more about mental health services at CHOC

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