The topic of mental health has cropped up in our Instagram feeds, our TV shows, and our clothing brands — all to raise awareness of the fact that mental illness is common, it can affect anyone, and every experience is different.
But now a Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand that created a mental-illness jewellery line for the same reasons has sparked an online debate about whether or not its products are "sending the right message".
Ban.do released an exclusive line of necklaces that feature the scripted words "anxiety," "bipolar," and "depression". On its website, founder and chief creative officer Jen Gotch noted that she's had her own personal struggles with mental health, which is why she created the jewellery line to help end the stigma.
"It's so important for us to open up a dialogue about how we are feeling and get to a place where we are comfortable asking for and receiving help," she wrote. "These necklaces are a step in doing that, and I hope they can also serve as a conversation starter for people to be more open about what's going on in their minds."
But despite her transparency, some social-media users claim this method of raising awareness is "offensive" and "romanticises" mental illness.
u can totally tell this is not for awareness tho?? it's for "fashion" and using mental illness for a fashion statement is offensive if u ask me :/— bad ghrl bri bri Ⓥ (@chinchlady701) May 28, 2018
So first it was the 'cute by psycho' tops and now it's 'bipolar' 'anxiety' and 'depression' necklaces. When will brands stop glamorising mental illness?— Mimi_Sharpe (@Mimi_Sharpe) May 30, 2018
Does it matter? The point was they're romanticising mental illness by putting it into a cute necklace. You wouldn't see people walking about with 'Breast Cancer' or 'HIV' written on a necklace around their neck.— Islay (@AslayIslett) May 28, 2018
In response to one criticism, ban.do clarified on Twitter that its founder Gotch has bipolar disorder ,and that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Bring Change To Mind, a nonprofit organisation committed to ending the mental-health stigma.
these necklaces were designed by our founder jen who has bipolar disorder and all net proceeds from these necklaces go directly to @BC2M, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health and to raising awareness, understanding, and empathy.— ban.do (@shopbando) May 28, 2018
But while the brand had good intentions, some people are still confused by the "statement necklaces", and have continued to note how problematic they are.
maybe instead of using the actual word, depression/anxiety, use a symbol to represent it? its just a bit odd to walk around with the word depression literally in gold around your neck as if its some kind of wonderful label for us. i appreciate the gesture tho! good luck!— Kitty Tits 😺 (@gotrotheboss) May 28, 2018
everyone knows the proceeds go to a charity and i'm glad it does go to charity but the problem is that this still glamorizes mental illnesses. and just because someone with a mental illness designed the necklaces doesn't make it acceptable.— danielle (@daniellecos_) May 28, 2018
I hate this. I WISH I could take my anxiety off like a necklace but instead it's a choker that gets tighter & tighter when I go out in public, or lay in bed at night, or whenever it wants. Romanticizing mental illness isn't cute. Making profits off of mental illness isn't cute. https://t.co/HWZ0NyVeci— mo huntley (@mohuntley) May 29, 2018
While ban.do has not commented further on the debate, it did note on Twitter that the company "appreciates" the positive and negative conversations people are now having about mental illness.
"News flash: MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT A TREND. MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT FUN, IT'S NOT COOL, IT'S NOT FASHION. DON'T TRY TO MAKE IT SOMETHING IT'S NOT."