On the opposite end of the spectrum from stigma is the glamorization of addictions and disorders. This is a rarely talked about phenomenon because it seems so contradictory. Most people would reason that there is surely nothing about mental disorders or addictions that is glamorous, but some portrayals of these conditions would suggest otherwise. Hollywood and other sources of popular media have found ways of portraying disorders and addiction in a good connotation, such as normalizing them or even romanticizing them; a trend that should be reversed if these issues are going to be represented accurately.
There are many instances in the media and in popular culture when mental disorders and addictions are portrayed as the new standard of normal. We have all been through rough parts of town and observed groups of people who are clearly living lives governed by their addiction and disorders. What we don’t realize is that these people make up large communities that foster the belief that their way of life is normal and common. Their sense of healthy living has been fictionalized. Much of this mindset can be attributed to portrayals of addiction and disorder in the media. Many characters and archetypes of addiction and disorder in popular media treat these conditions very casually and over represent their commonality and acceptability.
Many media portrayals and celebrity lifestyles even romanticize addictions and disorders. Often, characters in films or personas in music make copious amounts of substance abuse and pleasure activities seem cool, mysterious and rewarding. Protagonists in films are frequently characters who struggle with some type of mental disorder and the choices they make under the influences of their disorder may be glorified or justified. In the sixties, there were many young actors and musicians who checked themselves into mental health treatment facilities because it was the “in thing” to be unstable, pensive and brooding.
All of these portrayals are unfortunate and unhealthy. We need to embrace disorders and addictions for what they are: something that makes a person’s life harder, and something that person should work to recover from, with support. The best thing we can do as a society for addictions and disorders is truly understand how they work through education and literacy.
Those who struggle with addiction and mental health problems exist among everyone else in large numbers. They hold jobs, raise families, manage responsibilities and form relationships like everyone else. It is estimated that nearly one third of North American society has struggled with addiction or mental health issues at some point in their lives. However, North American society has the tendency to place stigmas on these individuals, whether consciously or unconsciously, that have the effect of making them feel like second-class citizens. In the media and in pop culture, people with addictions and mental health issues are portrayed as weak, dysfunctional, threatening, incapable, lazy and odd. It is very important that these stigmas are put to rest, as they are marginalizing and damaging to people who have to live with these disorders.
In our society, passing judgment on people who are addicted or struggle with mental health problems is justified. People who are ignorant of these disorders hold the people afflicted with them entirely responsible for their condition. They are not educated about the psychological, environmental, behavioral and biological reasons behind mental disorders, so they simply assume that people afflicted with these disorders are lesser than they are. The enforcement of this stigma actually serves to worsen these disorders. The best thing for people struggling with a disorder, who are already in a confused and fragile emotional state, is encouragement. When they are met with discouragement, it is a setback and an obstacle for them.
Ostracizing people with addiction and mental health disorders is also largely justified. They often are turned into a joke in social media or pop culture, and are relentlessly made fun of. Or, they are treated like they carry a contagious disease and are avoided completely. This treatment is also quite malicious and hurtful. Living with addiction or a mental disorders is very challenging, and it takes incredible effort on the part of the person afflicted to change. Society needs to find a way to replace criticism with compassion and judgment with tolerance. Anyone making an effort to improve their lives deserves respect and encouragement.
If you are a Canadian struggling with addiction or mental health problems, do not buy into the stigmas surrounding your condition. Instead, reach out to a Canadian counseling center or Canada drug rehab to learn what treatment resources are available to you.