If you use social media, you are familiar with the idea of the “aesthetic”, be it the colour scheme of your Instagram photos or the prevailing theme of your poetry you post to Tumblr. Unfortunately, an increasingly common aesthetic is the notion of depression. In the digital age, a new culture has started to glamorise the notion of suicide and depression. Our intern, Rorke Wilson explores this….

On first thought, it seems like a positive move to allow for open platforms to discuss depression – for decades, it was considered too taboo to discuss. However, the conversation has shifted from a healthy discussion around creating awareness and helping those who suffer from depression, to the glamorisation of depression and suicide. A new culture has been created in which teens wallowing in sadness and choosing not to seek help, are the new idols.

Platforms such as Tumblr are plastered with images of beautiful, dark-haired girls; a violet tinge under their eyes with streaks of mascara running down their delicate cheeks. These photos are usually paired with perfect prose and beautiful poetry. While this may seem inspiring to those who suffer, it perpetuates the idea that mental illness is something to be admired and glorified, that those who suffer are beautiful for suffering rather than seeking help.

Furthermore, these platforms create communities of people, having someone to relate to is always helpful, but certain unhealthy narratives become perpetuated. The Tumblr blog ‘i-m-d-e-p-r-e-s-s-e-d’ glamorises the idea of suffering, and even offers advice to help people cover up scars that result from cutting. These communities create a positive feedback loop where the planning of suicide and glamorisation of those who suffer is rewarded, encouraging that behaviour and steering those who suffer away from long-term solutions that will ultimately benefit their mental health.

This culture also makes mental illness seem trendy. This causes many people who may not actually suffer from depression or suicidal tendencies to act like they do, just for the ‘aesthetic’. This can be seen on websites such as Buzzfeed, where articles titled “27 Tumblr Posts You’ll Only Get If You Have Depression” are published. These articles trivialise depression and make it seem funny and relatable, or beautiful and poetic, while the reality is a lot uglier and more serious.

The most problematic thing that comes from this culture is the glamorisation of suicide, and the idea that it is a viable solution. The popular book-turned-TV series: “Thirteen Reasons Why” has been widely criticised for glamorising the idea of suicide in teenagers. In the show, 17-year-old Hannah Baker commits suicide, leaving behind her a series of tapes, each addressed to a different person, detailing why she committed suicide. These tapes send her school spiralling into drama as those responsible try to protect themselves from the consequences of how they bullied and traumatised Hannah.

Unfortunately, the reality is far from that. Nobody leaves tapes, and it is not very often that those who drive others to suicide meet the consequences of their actions. The show, which is hugely popular amongst teenagers has been criticised for overshadowing the seriousness of a teen suicide with the teenage drama surrounding Hannah’s death, which has the entire school captivated. One of the major issues with glamorising suicide, is that it could convinces people with depression that suicide is a way to solve one’s problems and end suffering.

As a response to some of the criticism it has received, Netflix has now included a warning video at the beginning of each episode of the shows second season, in which the show’s actors tell viewers how to get help if they are affected by what they see on the show. Netflix has also committed to adding crisis resources and a viewing guide to the 13 Reasons Why website and will start a new after-show titled “Beyond the Reasons,” where actors, experts, and educators will break down the series.

The appropriation of depression on social media is problematic as it makes it seem like every teenager goes through a ‘phase’ of depression, which in turn creates a culture of scepticism when it comes to depression. This means that people who genuinely suffer and try to find help are not taken seriously when they step forward and try to find help.

Depression is not beautiful. It is ugly and serious, but this does not mean there is no solution.  The solution is not to glamorise those who suffer from depression, but to remind them that they can get better.

If you are considering suicide, please contact the Suicide Crisis Line immediately at +27800 567 567.

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