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The Romanticization of Mental Illness by Darina Rebro

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Essay

The Romanticization of Mental Illness

A young lady with a cartoon t-shirt sits with her eyes closed. In front of her is a plate of pancakes covered with syrup. Suddenly she opens her eyes and, with histrionic astonishment, expresses gratitude to the person who cooked the pancakes. The comments under this TikTok video praise the loving partner and the girl’s cute reaction. But there is a twist: she has no partner. Instead, she claims that the pancakes are a surprise from her alter, by which she means a male personality who she believes lives in her, along with other personalities. 

This user has almost 300,000 followers, and the video has more than 36,000 likes. This is one of numerous videos that share a hashtag #dissociativeidentitydisorder. 

The rise of videos regarding mental illnesses has begun to attract the attention of parents, experts in the field of psychology, and even media, including conservative pundits. The Daily Wire in particular has produced videos reviewing current TikTok trends with their hosts reacting to them. The lion’s share of those videos includes the topic of mental illness.

In one of those videos, Ben Shapiro reviews a TikTok of a man who goes by the nickname “The A System.” This man has 1.2 million followers, and he claims to have multiple personalities. In his review, Shapiro says:

We’re gonna demonstrate some symptoms of pretty severe illness and treat it as though it is a sign of not only wellness, but higher being. … Switching your voice a little bit doesn’t make you a different human being. If you actually have multiple personality disorder to the point where you actually believe you have multiple personalities—you really, really need to see a psychiatrist. That is a serious mental disorder.

A few months later The A System recorded a TikTok titled “Responding to the Hate and Fakeclaiming,” saying that he is aware of the “hatred” against him. The A System frames his choice to continue sharing videos that feature his alleged multiple personalities as an “exhausting” but “strong” choice. His fans have praised him, saying that they almost “went back into hiding” but The A System helped them, that they are “honored to know you all” (meaning his personalities), saying he is valid and that they believe in him. While Shapiro’s followers supported his realistic approach that asserts there can only be one identity in a mentally healthy person, The A System’s fans continued to support his delusion. It is also important to note, that while his delusion is highly questionable, it is not necessarily malicious. 

@theasystem

Responding to the Hate and Fakeclaiming #Ashertok

♬ original sound – The A System

The obsession with abnormality is not something new. Throughout history, people have been drawn to displays of physical and psychological irregularities. Tragic malformations of the human spirit or body often become an item of public interest even represented in art, and while there can be an educational side to it, it often morphs into plain entertainment. While I certainly cannot provide a full account of why this happens, one very real part of this phenomenon is a result of the fact that our sinful human nature can take perverse interest in others’ misfortunes—including, as we see in our digital age, others’ mental delusions.

As new social media platforms like TikTok appear, users find ways to explore the borders of what is allowed and accepted on a far larger scale than ever before. But as more and more people seek attention by presenting themselves as mentally ill on social media, the standard of “abnormality” is changing—along with the standard of normality, which is moving rapidly into dangerous and confusing territory.

Billions of people upload or share bits of information every day, often disregarding anything but their own desire to be seen or understood at any cost—whether that cost is their privacy, their dignity, or reality itself. Some of them, manifesting mental illness (or pretending to have one), try to give their lives meaning through internet popularity by uploading disturbing videos of unhealthy behaviour. 

It would be unfair to assume that everyone who posts a video about mental illness on TikTok has a malicious motive. Observing their careful approach to the audience and their borderline obsessiveness about the way they are perceived, it is clear that many of them are looking for acceptance, and, even more, love. But they are looking in all the wrong places. 

One of the fastest ways to receive attention is to share a problem you have. In the pseudo-progressive, feelings-praising world in which we live, it is easy to receive attention if you can claim to be a victim of some systemic oppression. The rules of this game do not allow for authentic character, which has both beauty and flaws. The focus is rather on a carefully crafted, made-up pretence, which defines everything in terms of power. 

Consequently, the abstract reality of woke ideology creates a list of fake personas who are occasionally called out in the comment section for the inconsistency of their claims. The disturbing TikTok video of a lady eating pancakes that she pretends were cooked by her made-up ‘boyfriend identity’ caused a few skeptical people to speak up.

“This isn’t how DID works,” writes one of the viewers. “And I doubt anyone in your comments claiming the [sic] have been diagnosed has actually been diagnosed.”

“So that’s a switch huh?” says another, “Convenient timing for the camera.” 

And another desperate voice writes: “Most of the time that’s not how it works.”

However, their comments drown among dozens of others, written by those who enjoy the “love story” of two personalities in the body of one human. 

This romanticization of dissociative identity disorder (DID) contradicts the severity of the effect it has on a person’s life. According to WHO ICD-11 classification, this disorder is

commonly associated with serious or chronic traumatic life events, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, [cause] significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning [and] often co-occurs with other mental disorders.”

The person genuinely suffering from dissociative identity disorder fights a constant battle to simply perceive reality. That is not something to celebrate, but to respond to with offers of help. However, the ‘woke’ generation accepts, and even promotes, any abnormality that seems ‘revolutionary’ and ‘brave.’ This attitude fails to truly care for a person, because it fails to consider a person’s objective well-being. Instead, those who express this attitude too often fall into the temptation of caring more about their narrative of systemic oppression than about real people. 

The rise of videos celebrating and glamourizing mental illness is one of the alarming consequences of our ‘post-truth’ culture. These highly vulnerable people, many of whom suffered trauma, are locked in mental cages and then told they are free—in fact, they are even praised for their prisons by the woke mob. A person with serious mental health issues is told that he has value only as long as he goes along with the oppressor vs. oppressed script; only as long as he fits himself and his experience into the narrative of being too unique to be understood by society. However, this treatment can actually aggravate people’s pre-existing mental disorders, in addition to spreading unscientific views of mental health. More and more highly suggestible young people self-diagnose with mental disorders, and instead of looking for help or a reality check, go deeper and deeper into their perilous delusion.

The ‘systems’ movements of people with DID on TikTok is just the tip of the iceberg. More and more people obsessively chase uniqueness, trying on different masks, filters, and disorders, to the point of losing the fundamental thing that makes them truly unique. That genuine uniqueness comes from self-awareness, rooted in objective reality and truth—something that woke ideology finds too boring to accept. 

Darina Rebro is a journalist from Ukraine. She holds a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Master of Arts in Advocacy Journalism.

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