Mental Health: Not a Black and White Photo

By Ayse Mısırlıoğlu

It is an extremely rainy day somewhere in Sevilla, and it not only looks, but also feels gray. There is still some life left in the streets, though only echoed in the hurried steps of everyone scurrying away to their homes or to the nearest shelter. Everyone seems to have an agenda. 

Why do gray days like these drag on and on? Why do we, on these days, pretend to be in dramatic music videos as we rest our forehead on the passenger window in the car? Why am I overcome by the thought of melancholia and a sense of loneliness upon seeing the picture of a rainy Sevilla afternoon? 

It is great grief of our generation in particular, that for a very long time, feelings like melancholy, loneliness, dread and sadness were viewed as material for pretty black and white pictures. It is true that black and white photos connote* these feelings to me, simply because I have been conditioned to make this association. I am not alone in observing this phenomenon. As a matter of fact, a phrase has been coined to describe it: the ‘romanticization of mental illness’.

I realize that it seems a big leap from discussing mere senses and emotions to mental illness. However, it seems that somewhere along the line, our brains are wired to react in a certain way to severely disturbing feelings experienced by people suffering from mental illnesses. This way we react not only improperly downplays the importance of actual psychological disease but also paints a somewhat blindly optimistic picture regarding mental health conditions. 

Because in reality, mental illness isn’t pretty. It is not a rainy gray Sevilla day, it is not listening to mellow acoustic guitar and looking out the window, it is not mascara running down someone’s cheeks, it is not tiredly running your hands through your hair. It is not an artsy black and white picture.  

When we look at a photograph like this one, we should remember that over the past thousands of years, more than half of the world’s population at any given moment would have been battling with a serious illness. For centuries, these illnesses were chalked up to so much less than they really are and all because we chose over and over to put mental illnesses in a figurative box. The same box that we would fill with our saddest memories from our childhood when we first had our hearts broken. Putting mental illnesses and people who deal with them in a box like this is disrespectful and insensitive at best. At worst, it leads to actual decision-makers casting aside mental health as an issue that doesn’t merit attention.

None of what is said in this article is a new idea; you have all heard it before. Given our generation’s ability to expertly transform any serious issue into joking material, those who speak against the romanticization of mental illness are sometimes ridiculed. Nonetheless, please remember during Mental Health Week and all weeks to come after, that some issues deserve utmost sensitivity. 

Edited by Jacco van der Veen

Artwork by Chira Tudoran