Why Is Mental Ilness Being Romanticized?

Teen programs accused of glamorizing sensitive topics

Why Is Mental Ilness Being Romanticized?

Olivia Minch, Staff Writer

Not everyone is pleased with Euphoria. The HBO series centers on several high school students, all with their own struggles, such as addiction and searching for where they belong. However, Euphoria was also criticized by D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) for glorifying drug use among teens. The character Rue struggled with drug use in the show and suffers from bipolar disorder.

In a statement to TMZ, a D.A.R.E. representative denounced the backers of the program.

“It is unfortunate that HBO, social media, television program reviewers, and paid advertising have chosen to refer to the show as ‘groundbreaking,’ rather than recognizing the potential negative consequences on school age children who today face unparalleled risks and mental health challenges.”

The show focuses on Rue as she seeks help for her mental issues. Although Rue’s drug use does affect her friends and family, it is not all that defines her character. Besides her struggles with drug abuse and mental illness, the show also displayed Rue exploring her sexuality.

This is not the first time a teen show has been criticized for glamorizing issues real teens deal with.  According to the Washington Post, in 2017, the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why premiered. The show centered on Hannah Baker, a high school student who killed herself and left behind audiotapes detailing the events that led to her death (Butler). 

Experts advise against describing a suicide in graphic detail since studies have shown it could lead to copycat suicides (Butler) and two families in California believe the show contributed to the suicides of their own children (Kindelan and Ghebremedhin). 

LHS sophomore Jayden Shoaf said she thinks that these programs glamorize and profit from sensitive issues.

“The more teen audiences they attract, the more money they make,” she explained.

LHS sophomore Renee Miller. Photo courtesy of Miller.

But LHS sophomore Renee Miller disagrees and said she thinks there is a positive side to displaying teenage mental health issues on television.

“I believe the production team that writes and puts together these shows, books, or movies, adds these details for people to educate them or help them understand on these sensitive topics,” she said.Although it may seem as though the producers are putting all of these illnesses and addictions into this series, in my head I’m seeing it as an opportunity for viewers to see some of many mental or emotional illnesses or SUD (substance use disorder).”

Miller gave some ideas for what teen show executives and writers can do to make these important subjects more realistic and less glamorized. 

I think executives and writers of shows just like Euphoria can make these sensitive topics better if they’re more introduced in a much more serious or thoughtful manner,” she said.

Shoaf also had some suggestions. She suggested that personal experience be used for writing the script. She also said to separate fiction from reality and to have a message at the end of an episode to display hotlines. When depictions of mental illness are finally shown center stage in pop culture, it can be a relief to those who suffer silently knowing they are not alone in their feelings (Northwestern Medicine).