Normalizing to Sensationalizing: The Evolution of Mental Health 

Mental health is an integral aspect of our overall well-being. As humans, we all go through various emotional, psychological, and social challenges that can sometimes be overwhelming. Seeking therapy and reaching out for help has become a common and acceptable practice in modern times, however, this was not always the case.  

There was a time when mental health issues were stigmatized, and people were ashamed to talk about it. This stigmatization not only caused immense suffering but also perpetuated negative stereotypes that still exist today. 

Normalizing mental health issues and treatment has been a great stride in promoting awareness and reducing stigma. However, with this wider discussion has come the problematic sensationalizing of mental health issues.  

 In this blog, we will delve into how mental health has gone from stigmatized to normalized, as well as the harmful effects of sensationalizing mental illness. 

GoodTherapy | Sensationalizing Mental Health 

Reducing the Stigma Around Mental Health 

 The stigma surrounding mental health goes back to the days when people suffering from mental illnesses were deemed unfit for society and locked away in asylums. Negative stereotypes perpetuated by the stigmatization of mental illness persist even today. They often paint individuals with mental health issues as weak, lazy, crazy, or dangerous.  

 These stereotypes are unfair and not true for many individuals suffering from mental health issues. People with mental health concerns come from all walks of life and are often very high-functioning individuals.  

 Such perceptions often lead to individuals with mental health issues being discriminated against at work, school, or even in social settings. This drives them away from their peers and can cause them to feel isolated and vulnerable.  

 Stigmatization also discourages us from talking openly about mental health. It reinforces the idea that we should hide our mental health issues and feelings. Research shows that people are more likely to avoid seeking mental health treatment when they perceive high levels of stigmatization associated with mental illnesses. 

 Normalizing mental health is crucial to combat stigmatization. And it starts with creating a safe and stigma-free space for individuals to talk about their experiences and seek help. By helping people understand that mental health issues are common, treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of, we create an inclusive and empathetic environment. 


From Normalized to Sensationalized  

The normalization of mental health helps to reduce stigma, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Though well-intended and generally beneficial, the casual normalization of mental illnesses may downplay the severity and complexity of different psychiatric conditions.  

 It can contribute to people having distorted ideas, misguided perceptions, or assumptions around mental illness. “Depressed people are always sad,” “anxiety means you’re nervous,” and “people with bipolar disorder are just overly dramatic” are only a few examples.  

 Unfortunately, the normalization and popularization of mental illness has led to the sensationalizing of mental illness, even turning it into a fad. Mental health is not a one size fits all issue; its complex nature means there are various levels of severity within diagnosis types. Turning it into an overly accessible trend can discourage those experiencing severe mental illness from opening up and can even cause self-doubt in their own assessment on their mental state. 

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The Dangers of Sensationalizing Mental Health 

It is becoming increasingly common to see words like depression and anxiety tossed around when describing feelings of sadness and worry. While everyone experiences sadness and worry, it is not the same as being depressed or having an anxiety disorder. When people misuse these words, it can trivialize the real struggles that people with mental illness face. It diminishes the severity of these illnesses, and people begin to brush off the importance of seeking professional help. 

 The misrepresentation of these illnesses in popular media has led to harmful situations for teenagers. Suicide, for example, can be contagious. When suicide is sensationalized through television or movies, it creates a ripple effect, with individuals taking their own lives in an attempt to glorify the behavior that they have seen. Representations of suicide on television or on social media platforms contribute to a culture where self-harm can sometimes be seen as the only means to get relief. 

 Another way mental health issues have been sensationalized is through recreational videos on social media apps. A TikTok trend involved people pretending to have dissociative identity disorder (DID), which is a severe mental illness. These videos were harmful because the portrayal of DID was highly inaccurate, and it made the illness seem like something that could be fun or trendy to have. It is essential to remember that mental illness is not a trend but a very real problem that affects millions of people. 

 Another downside to sensationalizing mental illness is when individuals use it as an excuse for bad behavior. People sometimes use mental illness to explain harmful actions that they cannot justify. This behavior only perpetuates a negative stigma around mental health, and it makes people less likely to believe others who genuinely live with these illnesses. Mental illness is never an excuse for harmful behavior. 

 Finally, mental illness and self-harm being seen as “tragically beautiful” has been another dangerous trend coming from sensationalizing mental health issues. Social media users are perpetuating a toxic environment where people are beginning to see mental illness and self-harm as attention-seeking behaviors. This trend is harmful because it romanticizes the act of self-harm and puts vulnerable people at risk. 

GoodTherapy | Mental Illness

Educate Yourself with GoodTherapy  

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and the more we talk about it, the more we can break down the stigma, but; it is important that we be more mindful of the language we use when addressing mental health issues, so as not to trivialize or promote sensationalism. 

 It’s vital that discussions surrounding mental illness remain grounded in truth while still encouraging understanding and openness. By taking a responsible and compassionate approach to discussing mental health issues, we can help to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourage individuals to seek support when they need it most.  

 At GoodTherapy, we strive to reduce stigma through education on therapy benefits while connecting those in need directly with qualified therapists near them. GoodTherapy provides millions of people with access to support and resources from dedicated professionals across the world. Learn more about how we can help today! 


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  • Leave a Comment
  • Frederic

    May 3rd, 2023 at 9:33 PM

    Please comment on Abigail Shrier’s book, irreversible damage.

  • Pamela

    May 10th, 2023 at 3:04 AM

    The article above is written in clear and understandable language and expresses what trends and fads can do.
    My brother and I grew up with a mother who suffered very complex mental illness. As a result we have both suffered a mental health crisis and the experience of growing up with these complexities has enabled us to help and support each othe.
    We aren’t experts by a long shot but our own experience has given us the realization that what we know within ourselves and what we have seen and with our own eyes is valuable to good therapy. Unfortunately I have been experiencing stigma and have found it very disabling and you describe it eloquently and I would encourage anyone not to be brought down by it. This is not an easy task on a personal level and would ask any sufferer to reach out for proper support. There is a lot of ignorance attached.
    Good luck and love to all sufferers, old and young.

  • Pamela

    May 11th, 2023 at 9:24 AM

    Frederic can you expand on your experience of this book as I’m not familiar with its title.
    Thank you.
    I personally feel that even irreversible damage can be lived with and can also be constructive to the good therapy of others’ struggling with this unfortunate circumstance. I’ve come to the conclusion that as children we are taught some very odd coping strategies, not necessarily for our own benefit, but for those of our caregivers. Why would we grow up knowing these teachings are odd and out of kilter with others. I feel I must feel my own way through and decide how comfortable I am with my own decisions on coping strategies.
    First stop is don’t hurt anyone else in this process, if possible. It can be done and makes for interesting conversations. Good luck with your searches, and have some fun along the way.

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