Since when was mental health fashionable?

Statistically, we are all likely to either fall victim to, or have someone close to us develop a mental health disorder. In fact, one in four of us will foster a mental health disorder at some point in our lives, thus making it an issue demanding of sensitivity and understanding. In the recent past, the popular high street band ‘Urban Outfitters’ has glamourised mental health awareness as a controversial faux pas fashion statement of sorts, giving rise to the questioning over the morality of fashion statements of this kind.

Urban Outfitters is a clothing chain widely regarded as a frontrunner in pushing the boundaries of fashion, often unafraid to include potentially offensive products in its range. This laissez-faire attitude to fashion was illustrated in January of this year when t-shirts with the word ‘depression’ included on the front of the design were barraged with a storm of criticism. The debate ensured a resurface of the infamous ‘eat less’ t-shirt controversy that resulted in the removal of the design in 2010. The repeated incident suggests that Urban Outfitters have learned little from the past and are prepared to play ignorance to sensitivity in the name of fashion.

Due to the high volume of criticism that Urban Outfitters were faced with, they were forced to remove the t-shirts from their clothing range. The clothing chain declined to take responsibility for their mistake, instead electing to hold their suppliers – a small label known as ‘Depression’ – responsible, thus distancing themselves from the furor. It is impossible for Urban Outfitters to shift the entirety of responsibility on to the suppliers; especially as the fact remains that this was a product that they believed would be an addition to their store. They would have had ample time to question the deployment of the shirts during lengthy design and buying processes but neglected to do so – suggesting that it was believed the sale of these t-shirts would be appropriate. While all major fashion statements require a large dose of risk as they often delve into untested waters, it appears as though Urban Outfitters underestimated the precarious nature of commercialising illnesses.

Considering that the majority of the Urban Outfitters clothing lines are catered towards younger generation where depression and eating disorders are prevalent, it seems a gross miscalculation to popularise these illnesses and give them credibility as a significant fashion statement. Urban Outfitters failed to learn from past experience and as such, conveyed their insensitivity to highly misunderstood illnesses. It is evident that the glamorisation of mental health is not appropriate in this modern social climate. With girls as young as six years of age being diagnosed with an eating disorder it must be asked as to whether it should have a place in the world of risqué fashion statements.

While it could undoubtedly be argued that wearing a t-shirt with a diagnosis of a mental health disorder could somewhat socially desensitise the issue, the inability of the store to take note of the 2010 incident has led some to believe that this is not a stunt of increasing mental health awareness but an exploitation of the taboo nature of the illness for profit.


Olivia Bates

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