top of page

Let's Talk Normalization

As things got chaotic towards the end of my summer and start of the school year, I definitely neglected this page. I regret letting it slip in my priorities, because it is something very important to me that I continue to promote. BUT! I am here now and I have a LOT to talk about. Even in this absence, I will say, though, my ideas have not stopped. As I experience more interaction in school, learn more about the world, and work on my college applications, I have taken notice of so many different things worth talking about. Today is something related to my return to school - excessive normalization (to the extent of inaccuracy and invalidation) of mental illness.

I am 100 percent in support of eliminating the stigma around mental illness. However, our society's attempts at doing so have actually shifted our attitudes to the far opposite side of the spectrum. This has taken shape in several areas of life, but I am going to use my personal observations in school as my primary example.

The word "depressed." The phrase "kms." The "she skipped lunch, she must have an eating disorder." All are interactions, words, and conversations I have observed or even been acquainted with. In fact, I hear them so often that I have even found myself engaging in a conversation which promotes negativity and contributes to a false perception of mental illness. But all of these phrases, and attitudes, and misunderstandings are not something to be accepted in our daily lives. The only products of this behavior are negative - for both those learning about mental illness and those experiencing mental illness.

The people over normalizing and misusing such terms are most times not intending any harm or falseness in any way. In fact, in an article I recently read on this topic, Daniel Fu (I will link the site below) recognizes that people are improperly associating normal emotions (which are still valid!!!!!) with mental illness. This he attributes a lot of blame to the media, which I agree with. With the good intention of breaking down barriers and accepting the realties of mental health, many influencers, celebrities, and organizations have made an obvious effort to make statements regarding the normality of experiencing these things. Again - a great step! However, our society is highly impressionable and also has a very "all-or-nothing" mindset. That is, people perceived that because it is common and because it is "normal," then they must too be apart of its impacts. And to cope, people turn to humor and validation.

The problem with this is, people confuse "common" with "normal." From what I have read, seen, and personally experienced, I can wholeheartedly attest that the pain of mental illness may unfortunately be common, but it is NOT normal. The pursuit of starvation, or physical perfection, in eating disorders in not normal. Thoughts of self-attempted harm or death is not normal. Spiraling and anxiety are not normal. Depression and feeling as though you are not enough is not normal. So, the fact that people have taken these very serious and life-changing mental conditions to a place of casual conversation, jokes, and accepted misunderstanding completely undermines the purpose of eliminating the stigma.

Because, when people act this way and talk this way, those struggling may become even further confused by the state of their minds and bodies. They may feel invalid if "everyone" is feeling it too. But they aren't. They may have bad mental health days or emotional struggles (again, entirely valid!!) but it is not the same. So the process of normalizing has actually taken away the power of those in need of help. It makes them question themselves and the level to which they "deserve" to seek help.

It is a tricky subject, because of course I do not know the lives or the minds of anyone making these jokes or these statements. Who is to say they are not, too, clinically depressed? But, that isn't my business and that isn't the matter I am assessing. Honestly, if they are dealing with these problems, it is even more reason to take the matter seriously and not reduce the intensity of the issues to insensitivity and misinterpretation.

There is so much more to say on this topic, and I could talk for hours. Especially now that I frequently hear words about "being depressed" or having "crippling anxiety" when these people make a mockery of the many levels and consequences of such conditions. But, ultimately I just want to find the balance that our society needs. I believe that every single person should become educated, ask questions, and even assess their mental health state. Any and every person may struggle with mental illness, so I am not taking away their validity even if they are the ones making these remarks. But, I think mental health education (whether personal or through school) is so important because it eliminates both the stigma AND the misunderstanding.

The first step I will say, though: stop contributing to this attitude. Stop saying I'm "depressed" when you don't like the homework assignment. Stop promoting dieting and starvation, normalizing the idea that eating disorders are attainable (which they are not). Stop all of it. Depression is serious. Anxiety is serious. Eating disorders are a form of self-harm. And so on and so forth.

Mental illness is common. Mental illness is not normal. I urge you to act and speak like it, while remaining empathetic and open-minded.

Thank you for reading (and please don't let the continuation of these behaviors mess with your mind. seek help even if you "are not sure." I promise no matter WHAT it is, your feelings are valid even if you aren't clinically diagnosed. The purpose of this article is not to reject asking for health or accepting emotions, it is simply to recognize the extremity of some societal shifts)

Taylor Hay :)


bottom of page