Destigmatized or Desensitized? Gen-Z Culture Surrounding Mental Health



Members of generation-Z, those born after 1995, have grown up learning about the importance of mental health in school due to the cultural shift that happened in the decades before us. This open conversation is huge progress from the “don’t ask don’t tell ” approach our parents’ society believed in, but we still have a long way to go. Normalizing open dialogue about this topic is important to Gen-z, and most are very candid about their own mental struggles .However, this candor has been taken a little too far as serious mental disorders have been desensitized and romanticized and social media is largely to blame. 


“Ugh social media is the problem, I’ve heard that one before. Adults think that is the root of all evil”, you may be thinking. But stay with me here. I love social media, I love how easy it is to find cool recipes and connect with people across the world. But, it does allow us to be exposed to so many pieces of media, we become desensitized to the content. A perfect example of this is TikTok.


Tiktok is a 15 second-1 minute video-sharing platform popular among Gen-z. This short form content curated for your interests by the algorithm allows us to consume lots of content, extremely quickly. Creators looking to go famous on TikTok need to “sell you” on their content rather quickly, or you will just keep scrolling; the most effective way to do this being shock humour. This type of humour usually involves oversharing, excessive use of hyperboles, subverting expectations, or jokes about situations we shouldn’t find humorous. Mental illness checks all of those boxes. They are very private things, You can use specific, commonly known connotations of  illnesses to illustrate your point, and mental illness is still a very serious subject to the older generations that is not supposed to be joked about. If every video we scroll past bombards us with unbelievable things, we become desensitized to them and creators need to up the ante. This creates a generation that does not understand the magnitude of problems surrounding them because they are bombarded by them. 


Another trend on Tiktok is turning interests, actions or personality traits into symptoms of a mental illness. Listing to a certain artist, looking a certain way or even enjoying certain drinks have become a calling card for being “mentally ill”. Maybe these actions are more commonly taken by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness, but it reduces our ability to view mental illness as an illness. Mental illness should not be portrayed as the thing that allows you to be part of a cool club. People are not depressed because they drink Monster, they are depressed because they cannot muster the energy to leave their bed. 


This compilation  of videos takes trendy things that lots of people do, like colour code their apps or using the emojis 🙂 & 🙁 and makes them out to be things that only mentally ill people do. By equating trends with mental illness, we have made having a mental illness, trendy and diminished its seriousness.


The real symptoms of mental illness are often belittled and/or romanticized in a way that adds to the portrayal of mental illness of cool and trendy. Content like this is popular, prevalent and considered normal on the app. To older generations, this may seem screwed up, and yes it is, but as I hopefully have portrayed, this is a complicated issue with a lot of factors at play.


The internal nature of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders can make it difficult to distinguish between the “quirky” people talking about how depressed they are to be trendy from those actually crying for help, while trying to not burden others with their problems. Gen-z claims to be a generation passionate about opening discourse on important issues, however, this “dark sense of humor”  is something that we have normalized to a concerning degree. I hope we grow up and learn that being screwed up is not a flex, trauma is not glamorous and that in our efforts to destigmatize mental illness we should not desensitize ourselves to the realities of it.