EDITORIAL: Sadboi culture glorifies mental illness

by | Feb 18, 2020 | Editorial

ETC Staff

Sad Boy Hours have taken over Twitter. The Twitterati say every hour is a sad boy hour.

Sad Boy, commonly spelled as sadboi, is described by Urban Dictionary as “one who is often upset by things in the world.”

The sad culture online helps to share emotional distress and mental illness on social media and has maintained a safe space online for people to open to. But maybe it’s too much of a good thing, allowing people to constantly complain without solving the issues. It’s more of a sounding board than a place to heal.

Youth between 15 and 24 year old have the highest rates of mood and anxiety disorders of all age groups, according to the Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health.

This is also the demographic that spends the most time online.

But is being in a space where people constantly talk about sadness, loneliness and mental illness actually healthy?

“People are associating their inconveniences and momentary solidarity with depression. Both are not correlated,” said Mit Desai, a psychology undergraduate student at York University.

Many people misdiagnose themselves with Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression about our winters, he said. They do not go see a professional and rather self diagnose it, Desai said.

These self-diagnoses are a result of the constant unending discourse online on mental illness and disorders.

Mental Illness is a very serious issue, and people should talk about it. And professionals should be involved in the discussions.

However, the problem lies when some people while talking about their stories, glorify their problems. The romanticization of mental disorders online can be a very dangerous thing in a world where people crave connection.

As a result, there has been a rise in disturbing subcultures online in which people promote dangerous behaviours.

“Pro-ana” is a term used to describe websites that promote anorexia. “Thinspo” is slang for thin-inspiration.

According to a survey conducted by American Journal of Public Health, 84 per cent of pro-ana websites showed anorexia as desirable and 64 per cent contained pro-bulimia content.

Thinspiration material was featured on 85 per cent of these websites and they often “provided overt suggestions on how to engage in eating-disordered behaviours,” the survey found.

Such advocacy groups are flourishing on the internet and often showcase disturbing images to support their point.

“Some images feature sayings used to encourage girls to starve themselves or tips on how to eat as few calories as possible (or burn as many calories as possible) as part of an extreme diet. Others show images of cuts on arms and legs,” health care coordinator Emily Tanner wrote in her study Girls, Instagram, and the Glamorization of Self-loathing in the journal Dissenting Voices.

In the online realm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders are progressively being depicted as some kind of beautiful suffering.

The constant memeing, tweeting and Instagramming under the veil of destigmatizing and normalizing mental illness is glamorizing it.

Even the mainstream media including TV shows and music albums have jumped on this bandwagon where they glorify suicide and self-harm in connection to depression and loneliness.

This “sad culture” is even commodified now and it’s not hard to spot big brand stores selling T-shirts saying “sad girls club” or “anxiety club.”

“The portrayal of mental illness and being sad as quirky is extremely unhealthy and can cause some people to want to have some sort of illness,” said Cristelle Mathews, a psychology undergraduate from Sophia College For Women in Mumbai.

These dangers of self-diagnoses have to be stopped with concerted efforts by health care and mental health professionals, by taking on a greater role in the conversations to reduce misinformation and potential self-harm in the unregulated world of the internet.