Oh memes. If I had been told in high school that I would be writing a mental health blog post about memes in my mid-20’s…-__-“ To a lot of millenials, memes are this childish source of humor that serve as a guilty pleasure. Most are hesitant to admit that they follow 17 different meme accounts, yet their Instagram algorithm has nothing but memes at the top of their feed. You may find yourself rolling your eyes at the very concept of memes, yet you literally just lol’d at one relating to a moth. In fact, you just tagged your best friend with depression in one relating to the perils of antidepressants. What’s going on here?
As silly as they are, memes may actually be doing some good for those struggling with mental health disorders. We know that social media can negatively impact your mental health in several ways, but it is also important to consider how it could be helping those who have mental health struggles. These are three of the following ways that mental health related memes can help those who are living with mental health disorders.
Memes help foster online communities of people who can relate to the struggles of mental illness. For several people who are debilitated on a day-to-day basis by mental illness, it can feel impossible to have any connection to someone who is going through what you’re going through. You may feel like a burden for reaching out to your friends whenever you’re in a dark place, so you crawl into your bed, and scroll through your feed. You see a funny/relatable mental health meme, you blow air forcibly out your nose, and double tap. What you also see are the thousands of other people who also liked the same meme, and the several hundred comments of people tagging their friends. Kind of hard to feel alone now, right?
Memes help start the conversation about mental health. It’s easy for me to talk to other social workers and counselors about mental health because they are so enmeshed within the culture. What’s more difficult is opening up with peers that don’t seem to associate with the mental health community at all. They may think that topics like depression or anxiety “kill the mood”. Those uplifting messages designed to motivate those struggling with mental disorders? Corny, cheesey, and disingenuous. And as someone who is directly connected with the mental health community, I find myself agreeing with these folk at times. It gets so old.
Let’s continue from the example I had in my last paragraph. You find this super relatable meme about depression, and decide to tag one of your close friends. You’re not as hesitant to bring up the topic of depression because it’s in meme form. They’re funny, and they’re used for entertainment purposes. You’re sending the message, “this meme is super funny because we relate to it--because we’re both struggling with mental illness that is debilitating as hell--but we’re in this together, so it’s way less hellish”. It doesn’t kill the mood because it’s funny, and it also doesn’t come across as disingenuous because it’s frank. It gets straight to the message in a way that only a person struggling with depression can adequately communicate.
Memes spread awareness of mental health issues to populations that otherwise wouldn’t know about these issues. Memes are helping start the conversation within populations of people who struggle with mental illness, and they are also extending this conversation to others who do not struggle with mental illness. We follow our friends on social media for a number of reasons: we went to middle school with them, we find their posts funny, we like shopping at their online store, we worked with them over the summer during high school. Social media allows a connection between different networks of people that would not have been connected otherwise. You may repost a mental health meme on your story, which is seen by almost all of your followers. They may click through to the source, and see the large amounts of people who have liked and commented on the photo. What this shows them is the reality of mental illness: it is widespread and rampant. The large numbers of people liking these photos signal a high level of relatability, meaning that there are large numbers of people who live with mental disorders. This outside recognition is great for the mental health community; it brings more awareness to the struggle, and shows the level of impact that mental disorders have on our population at large.
So before you pass judgment on a meme—especially one relating to mental illness—consider the benefits that it has for those in the mental health community. Your guilty pleasure may actually be helping those who feel debilitated by the impact of mental illness, so you may not have to feel so guilty about it after all!
Marissa Martin, Counseling Intern
"Comparison always takes. It never gives. It tends to creep up when we least expect it --even when things are going well. Actually, mostly when things are going well."
Comparison is never on the invitation list. We don't welcome it with open arms. We don't want it around. We try to limit our interaction with it as much as possible. Comparison feels like a pit in your stomach. A race in your mind that you can never win. A belief that you can't get rid of. A fear that rests in the front of your mind, like a stranger waiting outside your door, knocking until you gather enough courage to open and see what she wants.
Comparison always takes. It never gives. It tends to creep up when we least expect it --even when things are going well. Actually, mostly when things are going well.
So what can we do with comparison? It's easy to fall in the mind and body trap when you answer Comparison at your door. It's hard to scroll through Instagram without comparing ourselves to the countless people who seem to have it "all" -- or at least seemingly more than you.
Our minds tell us that we aren't good enough in many areas. Not limited to body image, parenting, dating, relationships, work, marriage, finances, cars, friends, and travel. Many categories scroll through our mind faster than our fingers on the news feed. Remember that there are countless opportunities that Comparison will pound down the door to your mind, but there are things we can do to ease the pit of comparison that rests in our stomachs or our chests and the countless thoughts that it brings with it.
When thinking of comparison, please remember it is a HUMAN condition. It is biologically necessary that we compare ourselves (at least, it was mostly important in caveman days) as a mean of survival. What is not necessary is letting comparison lead to shame and by being attentive to your thoughts and actively working to acknowledge and modify them, we can decrease the voice of the inner critic and build higher self-compassion.
Robin Helget, LSCSW, CPT
"It helps her to feel confident, increasing her self-esteem yet continuing to struggle with the underlying self-deprecation." - Allison kidd
What do you picture when you hear the word “depressed”? Often the responses are stereotypical: someone crying all the time, can’t get out of bed, hygiene is lacking, unable to maintain relationships, and the visualization continues. She looks “fine” is what we tell ourselves and each other.
She looks put together. Her hair is done, makeup pristine, outfit polished. She doesn’t show up in sweats, looking a mess. The thing is, she thinks that if she looks the part, she’ll feel it. Sometimes this works. It helps her to feel confident, increasing her self-esteem yet continuing to struggle with the underlying self-deprecation.
She looks social. She goes out with friends, participates in school activities, attends family gatherings, converses with coworkers, goes to community events. She isn’t that girl sitting in her room crying like we might expect. She thinks that if she’s surrounded by others, she’s not left to deal with her own thoughts. Her social engagement helps to distract her from the loneliness and boredom. It can be a way for her to manage her depression, gaining energy from others.
She looks happy. Her Snaps and Instagram pics show her laughing, having fun, and making jokes. She doesn’t allow others to see her raw self, because that isn’t as appealing to others. She shines her smile, portraying to everyone she’s happy. It protects her from people asking questions or worrying about her, causing her to feel more uncomfortable. At times, the flattery she receives from others hitting the button “like” helps her to feel accepted and normal.
Depression isn’t always that obvious. In fact, it often can be referred to as the “invisible illness”. Just because she looks happy on the outside, doesn’t mean she feels that way on the inside, or even all the time. People that experience depression are often very careful to hide their feelings, putting a mask on to protect themselves.
We then tell ourselves, "If she doesn’t look depressed, then she must not really be". How can you recognize if someone is struggling with depression?
Allison Kidd, LSCSW works with teens to help reframe their negative thought processes, increase motivation, and find hope for change. Studies say that 15-20% of teens will experience depression before adulthood and depression can worsen if not treated. Now is the time to start working towards looking and feeling happy.