I used to laugh at Britney Spears’s self-shaved head, Lindsay Lohan’s cringeworthy public appearances, and Amanda Bynes’s incoherent Twitter rants. Despite my struggles with anxiety, I did not make a parallel between my mental health and these scandalous mental breakdowns. I was like many other psychiatric patients who toted that “my illness was not like those people’s.” I was not crazy, or so I thought. My first semester of college changed that. I became the “crazy girl.”
I struggled with mental health for most of my life, but it was never anything a weekly therapy session could not fix. I do not know whether it was being away from home, the stress of balancing academics and a social life, or just a coincidence that turned my general anxiety and bizarre dieting habits into a full blown mental breakdown. Somewhere along the way, I lost myself. I began distancing myself from my friends, fighting with people, having public meltdowns, and restricting my food intake. I once got so angry that I kicked a friend out of my dorm room for asking me if I had eaten that day. From the outside, my breakdown was comical and scandalous, but I was slowly losing the battle against mental illnesses. I was slowly dying from the inside out.
Most people believe symptoms of mental illnesses and mental breakdowns are interchangeable, but they aren’t. People can live with anxiety attacks and depressive episodes, but not mental breakdowns. Mental breakdowns, unlike standard symptoms of mental illness, are all encompassing. They prevent a person from having healthy friendships, working, going to school, and eventually living. It is entertaining to watch from a distance, but so were gladiatorial fights. Spectators enjoy the blood and guts as long as they are not the ones being slaughtered.
Sadism still dominates our culture, just not as overtly as it once did. People love to watch others fall from grace. Drug addictions, schizophrenia, and eating disorders become spectacles. This is apparent in reality TV shows like Intervention, True Life, and My Strange Addiction. Loss of control is scandalous, and many people feed off of scandals. They love to watch a “junkie” shamelessly lose all of his humanity while hounding for cocaine. This is disturbing.
Most recently, I have seen pictures of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, captioned with, “wtf happened?!” Many people chide, “That’s what drugs do” or “That’s anorexia,” and while they may be right, this is nothing to laugh at. Drug addictions are deadly; anorexia is deadly. No amount of crazy behavior or altered appearance excuses laughing at someone’s pain. Yes, mental illness sometimes causes people to have public meltdowns or look “rough,” but that is a symptom of deteriorating health.
Most people would not laugh at cancer, yet they laugh at mental illness. Maybe this is because mental illness affects one’s behavior unlike most physical illnesses, or maybe it’s because mental illnesses are not visible, but the spectacle surrounding mental illness needs to stop. People die from mental illnesses, and that is not funny.
People with mental illnesses are as guilty as anyone else when it comes to laughing at and trivializing breakdowns. Anxiety attacks become synonymous with mental breakdowns on Facebook and Twitter and people share memes about Britney Spears’s public meltdowns. This only adds to the stigma.
In order to end the stigma–in order to save lives, we must recognize our errors. Making fun of any breakdown is not okay. I will be the first to admit that I was wrong for mocking seemingly “crazy people.”