Tumblr’s “interactive diaries” glamorize mental illness


Katie Wolf

“Tumblr” is available on both web and mobile platforms, and is a highly popular outlet for many Adams students.

Apparently, Tumblr has a rule book.

“Shhh!  You’re NOT supposed to talk about Tumblr outside of Tumblr. People on Tumblr aren’t supposed to follow people they actually know” seems to be the golden rule among teen Tumblr users.

According to Business Insider, the popular blogging website, Tumblr, has 30-50 million active users, many of them teenagers.   Amid teens, there’s a popular philosophy that Tumblr is a place where one can escape the real world, finding friends outside of their usual sphere through following, reblogging posts and asking anonymous questions to other Tumblr users.

Blogging sites, especially Tumblr, can be a center for creativity and a place to meet like-minded people.  The problem is, Tumblr has a dark side.

Tumblr:  The “Interactive” Diary  

Back in the days when computers filled rooms, not palms, troubled teens might turn to a diary in order to express themselves.  A teen might be angry one day, and maybe feel the need to vent.

“Dear Diary, I’m feeling pretty bad today.”  

Now, imagine if that diary could actually respond back.

“Oh no!  What happened?”

Of course, the teenager writing would be surprised by a diary expressing sympathy.  Despite this shock, he or she might love the idea that the diary is listening attentively.  Now, imagine if the teenager learns that the more he or she writes, the more the diary responds.  The more threatening, dangerous, scary, or serious the response, the more sympathy he or she gets from the diary.

“Dear Diary, I’m going to kill myself.”  

The Dark Side of Tumblr

Tumblr is, in fact, an “interactive” diary, one that has created a breeding ground for a strain of Münchausen syndrome among attention-seeking teens.     Psychiatric facetious disorder, or feigning illness to gain sympathy, has manifested itself within the teen Tumblr cult.

While it is certainly true that truly troubled and mentally-ill people seek solace in blogging and internet-led support, the “fanfare” about mental illness on Tumblr is falsified and harmful.

Pornographic GIFs, reblogged “sad” poetry, and black and white photos of asylum hallways paired with an equally forlorn quote are all typical posts of some Tumblr teens.  Writing an update like “I want to die” or “I’m done” is also popular, one that leaves followers frantically scrambling to type up supportive responses.  When the Tumblr user is tired of the sympathy flooding their inbox, he or she might type, “Really guys, I’M FINE.  Seriously, STOP asking, okay?”  This scenario repeats the next day.

Tumblr also has branches devoted to certain aspects of mental illness, like anorexia or, more popularly, self-harm. (Sometimes these are referred to as “cutting blogs.”)  Usually, a teen posts a self-harm picture (one that might be real but are many times falsified, copied and pasted from somewhere else on the internet) with a quote like “my scars make me stronger.”

While self-harm pictures grace pages of Tumblr in abundance, users also indicate that rape, domestic violence, sexual identity issues, and even cancer or other fatal physical illnesses have been lied about on Tumblr.

Stopping the Glamorization

As cultural appropriation minimizes the significance of certain aspects in culture, the glamorization of mental illness on Tumblr is no less damaging to those affected by actual mental illness.

In the 1950’s, stereotypical portrayals of mental illness depicted shock therapy, lobotomy, psychiatric wards and dark asylum corridors.  Today, these same images are being glorified on the pages of Tumblr by attention-seeking teens.   Like everything else today, our generation seeks to spin something taboo into something “cool” or “unique.”  On Tumblr, mental illness is what’s “in.”  Mental illness has faced and is still facing a stigma, and with our generation’s need to glamorize it, progress is far from being made.  Falsified images of mental illness as well as falsified accounts of mental illness ultimately hurt the Tumblr community, the users involved, and the mental health community as a whole.  Genuine teen sufferers of mental illness, the truly sick and even the suicidal, are now classified as “dramatic teenagers” due to their association with the pitiful Tumblr teens of our generation.

In short, stop the glorification, stop lying, and also, stop reblogging Sylvia Plath quotes without knowing that Sylvia Plath was a confessional poet.