Romanticization or Relatability? Mental Illness in Television

While there is undeniable beauty in pure, raw emotion, which when depicted on the big screen, can act as meaningful representation for mentally ill individuals, ultimately, the question arises: are viewers relating to the content, or are they unhealthily romanticizing mental illnesses?

Such romanticization can be described as someone highlighting the positive aspects of a mental illness, while downplaying its negative aspects, ultimately insinuating that the illness is not as harmful as reality. In turn, this often associates glamorized aesthetics with mental anguish.

13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series following Hannah Baker, whose depression leads to her self-inflicted death, is a clear example of the potential harm portrayals of mental illness can introduce. In the series, Baker’s death is noted from the beginning, allowing the episodes to serve as flashbacks while the ghost of Baker narrates the events. With the omniscient narration Baker provides, the show frames her akin to an angel, providing wisdom and reflections on a world too cruel for her presence. Her death lead to the betterment of others’ lives, as they recognized their wrongdoings, ultimately assigning value to Hannah’s death and reinforcing the idea that her mental illness and her death were a catalyst to the resolution. 

Contrasting 13 Reasons Why with a show like Euphoria, which follows Rue Bennet and her substance abuse, depictions of mental illness can become beneficial to society. In Euphoria, Bennet’s disorder is not portrayed as beneficial by any means to any other character. Instead, harsh scenes of her turmoil with her family, love interests, and close friends destroy any aesthetic perceptions and depict the true harsh reality of substance abuse. Additionally, though Euphoria is known for its glamorous aesthetics, such stylization can be viewed as Bennet’s perception of drugs, ultimately emphasizing the stark, sobering reality she must face. Unlike 13 Reasons Why, Euphoria demonstrates no beneficial outcomes due to the mental illnesses depicted.

When appropriate depictions of such mental illnesses, like those in Euphoria, are made, they allow for the representation of individuals dealing with similar problems. Quality representations can assist in informing audiences of the anguish mental illnesses provoke and destigmatize such disorders in contemporary society. However, when glamorized perceptions of mental illnesses are created, they instead undermine the conditions, leading to romanticization. 

It is crucial when watching a series that deals with sensitive topics like mental illnesses to recognize the accuracy of such depictions to understand the conditions as the debilitating disorders they may be, not a glamorized depiction undermining the bleak, harsh reality.