Honestly, I Can’t Stand the Lexapro SweatshirtReading Time: 5 minutes
I Am So Sick of ‘Depressed but Make It Hot’ Merch, And I take Lexapro!, Mental health merch: Why I hate the Lexapro sweatshirt and other similar items.
Want a pink sweatshirt that says LEXAPRO across the chest and costs $80? You’re out of luck—they are sold out. Perhaps because they were recently highlighted in a piece that ran in the New York Times about the trend of ‘mental health merch.’ Other items featured include tank tops that say ‘Depressed but Make It Hot!’ and a $380 cashmere crew neck embroidered with ‘It’s okay to feel blue.’ Much of the clothing featured in the piece is sold by Eileen Kelly, who hosts a podcast called Going Mental. The idea, Kelly told the paper, is to de-stigmatize mental health struggles.
Such ‘mental health merch’ isn’t new. There is an entire corner of Etsy filled with ‘Live, Laugh, Lexapro‘–type goods that’s been around for a bit now. Nor is the general cute-ification of mental illness a particularly recent phenomenon either. A couple of years ago, I wrote about the boppy little videos on TikTok made by ‘coaches’ that (often incorrectly) described various kinds of experiences that tend to come along with simply being alive as ‘trauma responses.’ (The coaches, of course, sold courses on how to work through this ‘trauma.’)
All over the place, you can find people trying to make a buck off ‘mental health’ as a concept without really providing anything meaningful in exchange. (Maybe, if you are lucky, a portion of profits goes to some kind of mental health fund.) There was the widely critiqued #BellLetsTalk campaign, which promoted the concept of … talking about mental health … while also promoting … the phone company. Actress Selena Gomez has spoken widely about her own mental health struggles, including in a deep and searching documentary … but if users want an easier take-home message, they might try buying her Stay Vulnerable melting blush, or lip balms in shades like Empathy or Support.
Sure, some of this stuff is a little less obvious than wearing the word WELLBUTRIN across your chest. But it all falls broadly under the same boring commodification of the idea of ‘mental health’: a sweatshirt or a lipstick or a funny TikTok video that masquerades as more than it is. As being for something.
That ‘something’ is almost always summed up in the hopelessly vague sentiment of ‘raising awareness.’ (OK: in fairness to the Stay Vulnerable blushes, a percent of proceeds go to more-concrete action.) Take it from Shannon Bennett, the clinical director at the Center for Youth Mental Health at New York–Presbyterian, who praised the health merch to the New York Times: ‘The goal of raising awareness, decreasing stigma and contributing to a culture of shared support is a good thing,’ she said.
To the extent that anyone sees a LEXAPRO sweatshirt and feels a little less weird about taking Lexapro—yes, that is great. But I don’t think ‘awareness’ about anxiety and depression medication is a huge issue among the $80-sweatshirt-wearers of the country. And as a person who struggles with her own mental health, as a Lexapro taker—well, I hate this trend, honestly! I find it cloying and infantilizing. I also have to ask: How does this all help … really?
Maybe part of my resistance, the core of it, is about how I feel about my own anxiety at this point in my life. Even as much as the drug has helped me, I do not, it turns out, wish to be on Lexapro. I would rather not need it! After a decade-and-change of being on it, I am, frankly, kind of weary. Maybe I’ll take it forever. Maybe I won’t. I don’t know. It is a tool with upsides and downsides, like any other. But I’m sort of appalled at the idea that taking Lexapro could be pink, fun, and worth spending $80 to personally advertise, on my body. Plus, I need that $80 for therapy copays. I mean, seriously, would you seek to profit off cancer like this? (Well, yes. Ugh.)
There are a few things that I would like to put my finger on as being ‘bad’ here, beyond the obvious it-is-weird-to-present-a-moneymaking-scheme-as-inherently-good-because-it-‘raises-awareness’ vibe. One is that it’s not actually good to tie your identity closely to an illness that is controlled by your brain. While you certainly cannot ‘think’ your way out of mental illness, seeing yourself as a person whose brain intrinsically works in a maladaptive way can contribute to keeping you stuck. At times, I have embraced my existence as a person with anxiety. But conceptualizing myself as a person who can also be calm, who can actually handle the world, and realizing that this is my preferred state—that has been so much more helpful.
Another is the idea that people should be walking around, declaring their struggles for the world to see, whether on a garment or a talk show or on the internet or anywhere else. Psychiatrist Jessi Gold wrote recently for MediaDownloader about how the self-disclosure of personal details has become commonplace in our society. From her perspective, a culture of self-disclosure is a good thing—but she also cautions that it can result in difficult and confusing emotions for the sharer. I guess what I am saying is that if you do desire and get your hands on a LEXAPRO sweatshirt, it’s worth really considering whether you’re going to wear it, and how you’re going to feel when random people ask if you take the stuff.
And finally, I just need to point out: Medication doesn’t help everyone. People often have to try a couple before they find something that does. A third of people with major depressive disorder have treatment-resistant depression. The solution to truly tough mental health conditions—those are harder to put on a sweatshirt. And when it comes to medication, there are side effects, which, in my experience as a patient, tend to be glossed over when they are prescribed.
In the meantime, the ‘mental-health washing’ of consumer goods will continue apace. A post on the website RetailWire flagged mental health as the next big thing that brands catering to Gen Z should think about, following trends in goods that signaled values like ‘sustainability’ and ‘political narratives.’ After all, the post said, citing the American Psychological Association, the nation’s mental health is horrible.
The impulse to get behind this stuff is understandable. Like goods with environmental and political messages, cute mental health shit is acclimating us to a world where we are, on balance, perhaps a little more miserable than we need to be. The planet is dying. We’re on our phones all the time. Depressed but make it hot.
We all want to be hot! But I’d rather we just be honest. Being chronically sad and anxious? It sucks. It’s horrible. I want to get better, and to be better. And to make the world a better place by doing something other than (OK, OK, in addition to) ‘telling my story.’ But really, I don’t think we’re all going to be shopping our way to a healthier future.
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