3 Times People Made Money By Appropriating Mental Illnesses

Grab a seat, get out your popcorn, and try not to throw any burnt kernels at the screen- even though I’m sure you’ll want to.

Mental health issues are a daily struggle for so many people and their loved ones, and yet, it is appropriated by pop culture on a near-constant basis.  In this context, I’m using the term “appropriation” to describe how elements of mental illnesses are essentially “borrowed” by brands to seem relatable to their audience, or to seem on trend. When this happens, the struggles of people with mental illnesses are dismissed as minor annoyances that everyone deals with.  In short, this probably has a few consequences, including:

  • People who seriously display symptoms of mental illnesses are dismissed by their friends
  • People who are seriously struggling might brush it off as having “first world problems.”

In this post, I’ll be offering different examples of mental illnesses being turned into content for monetary gain.  These examples are meant to be rather obvious, but there are plenty of other instances of appropriation that aren’t as clear. Let’s start, shall we?

1. This cartoon egg with “adorably” crippling depression- Gudetama

Gudetama is a Sanrio character (they also created Hello Kitty).  He is featured in his own anime series with over 450 short episodes.  The character appears to lack the motivation to do just about anything, and he romanticizes stability. With 1,700 different products featuring Gudetama as of January 2016, Sanrio isn’t shying away from cashing in on depression.

2. This online store with a plethora of clothing items that try to make anxiety and depression seem cool- Look Human

Look Human sells sweatshirts, T-shirts, mugs and so many other items that attempt to make anxiety and depression seem quirky. “I Prefer Depression Over Exercise,” because apparently depression is a lifestyle choice.  Never mind that depression might make someone less motivated to exercise.  Nah, living with a persistent health issue is sooooooooo much easier. Can you tell how bothered I am by this? Moving on…

3. This luxury brand’s collection of jewelry featuring self-harm tools- Alexander McQueen

In the name of high fashion, you can wear a razor blade on your wrist for $65.  If pink isn’t your color, not to worry- there are 7 other types of bracelets with razor blades attached to them in the MCQ collection.  Alexander McQueen took his own life in 2010 (here is a source, but it includes strong triggers related to self-harm, suicide, and drug use).  To me, its dissapointing that a company who lost its founder due to his battle with mental health issues would go on to sell products that glorify maladaptive, dangerous coping mechanisms.

Let it be known that mental illnesses are not accessories. Let it be known that it is not trendy or new to live with anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue.  Let it be known that there are people who are more interested in cashing in on the millions of people who are fighting daily for peace, stability, and happiness.

Let it be known that anyone who is suffering does not need to brush off their symptoms.  Let it be known that there are people who dedicate their lives and careers to making sure that no one has to work through this alone.  Let it be known that the companies described in this post are not here for you, but that plenty of people are.



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  1. Hi Brianna,

    My name is Ted, and I am currently researching how Gudetama turns Japanese workplace stress into a carnivalesque opportunity for catharsis without addressing the mental health issues people face. Your post struck a chord with me – I agree that such issues aren’t accessories or products. When my article is done I’ll send you a link if you’re interested. Take care.

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