“Even those people who are ‘wannabe depressed’ still feel the same emotions. It’s dangerous to talk about ‘wannabe depressives’ because we don’t know for a fact that they are in fact wannabes,” Laura says. “There are a lot of people that suffer.”
Certainly those who are “wannabe depressed”—a term Laura used to describe those who seem to seek out and share imagery associated with torment, but are not clinically depressed—believe in their own pain, but they often blur the line between depression and commonplace negative emotions. This makes it difficult to tell what’s “wannabe” and what’s clinical depression.
This online cultivation of beautiful sadness is easy to join: anyone can take a picture, turn it black and white, pair it with a quote about misunderstood turmoil, and automatically be gratified with compassion and pity. And this readily accessible sea of dark poetry could easily drown out those whose suffering has reached the clinical level. During the vulnerable years during which adolescents seek out self-affirmation and recognition from others, this new, easy promise of being recognized as strong, beautiful, and mysterious by Tumblr “followers” can be very tempting, says Dr. Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Too often, it just leads to more teenagers believing and feeling they are depressed, self-pitying, self-harming.
“When you look at secular trends and epidemiological research completed over the last several decades, there seems to be a slow and fairly consistent increase in levels of depression for each succeeding generation of teenagers,” says Reinecke.
Tumblr isn’t the only place this glorification of self-pity happens.
“Tumblr is a very easy place for people to feed off of this kind of frenzy because of their ‘reblogging’ system, [which makes] it very easy to [spread] pictures and gifs… particularly gifs, which can be quite graphic,” Laura says. “But there are specific sites [for] specific conditions, like ‘Prettythin’, for pro-anorexics. It’s grown like wildfire.”
The short, soundless, looped video of gifs makes self-hatred into practical bite-sized packages. On Tumblr, Laura came across many of these, some of which show teenagers cutting themselves.
This sort of exhibitionism of self-harm, suicide, depression, or self-loathing under the pretext that it is beautiful, romantic, or deep is hardly unusual. Today the depression many teenagers, like those on Tumblr, say they have is one that’s linked to a notion of “beautiful” suffering.
“Tumblr was, at the start, a photography and art website,” Laura says. “If you link that together with depression blogs, you end up with a glorification of these conditions. There’s definitely a growing community of people feeding off of each-other’s strong emotions, and it’s definitely visible online.”