Vogue Portugal recently landed in hot water because of one of the covers associated with their upcoming mental health issue. The cover, shown below, showed a model crouched in a tub with women dressed as nurses pouring water over her. The nurses were actually the model’s mother and grandmother, and the photo was meant to offer the historical perspective of life in a mental institution.
The problem is that life in institutions wasn’t pleasant, and it definitely wasn’t fashionable. While it is important to know and understand how mental healthcare has evolved, that does not mean we glorify those disturbing times but putting them on fashion magazine covers. Fortunately, the magazine recently decided to pull the cover and apologized for any offense they had accidentally caused.
This is good news, and it demonstrates the positive impacts that can be generated through public backlash and sustained pressure. Indeed, the fact that so many felt strong enough to push back against the cover shows how far we have come. Yet the fact that the cover was made in the first place demonstrates how far we still have to go.
The other unfortunate issue I have with this issue is that it is called “The Madness Issue.” Mental illness is not madness, and it fuels the stigma surrounding mental illness to call it madness. While a colleague of mine suggested it might be a translation issue, since it is a Portuguese magazine but is printed in English. And while that might be true, the magazine still should have had someone check the title. Because while the magazine should be commended for dedicating an issue to mental health, calling it the madness issue and including negative portrayals, like the controversial cover mentioned above, will only fuel the stigma surrounding mental illness rather than ending it.
We all must work to end the unfortunate stigma that surrounds mental illness. Sometimes that includes pushing back on media depictions that are in poor taste. Other times it means educating the people in our lives that mental illness may have demons, but that doesn’t mean we become monsters. Just as with any medical condition, mental illness does not define those of us who battle the demons day in and day out. And though these dark tales need to be told, that doesn’t make them fashionable, and what Vogue Portugal did, at least in my opinion, wasn’t fashionable at all.