Mental Illness Memes: A Virtual Link Between Mental Illness and Dark Humor

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Mental Illness Memes: A Virtual Link Between Mental Illness and Dark Humor

Meme is derived from Greek word "mimeme" which means "imitated things" that may take the form of photos, videos, gifts, commercials, comics and image macros with humorous content / Photo by Getty Images


Humor is often seen as a positive coping mechanism. People who are affected by mental illnesses may use humor in several ways to fight against them. One of the ways they can do this is by using memes about their disorders.

Memes have become a staple on the internet. They are mostly composed of relatable, humorous and shareable content. Lately, memes have been used in spreading awareness about mental illnesses. There are ongoing debates as to whether the memes increase the stigma or actually lessen it.


What Is a Meme?

Social Media Today says that meme is derived and is a shorter form of the Greek word “mimeme” which means “imitated things”. It started in 1970 when Harry Fees turned pictures of his cats into greeting cards and they became viral. However, memes only truly rose to popularity in the year 2001. Now, they are being used to illustrate how cultural information is distributed.

Memes can take the form of photos, videos, gifs, commercials, comics and image macros (a picture with a caption that serves as a punchline). It requires a target audience, must be humorous and should be found on social media sites where they can spread.

Medium states that it is made up of two layers. The outer layer appears positive and childish, which is used to conceal the other layer of the meme. The other layer is a real portrayal of struggles, which is actually the core message of the meme.


Mental Illness Memes and Dark Humor as Coping Mechanisms

For online content to be perceived as humorous, there should be an element of surprise. This may cause it to tap into topics that may swing between being risky or inappropriate. The humor used here focuses on negative aspects such as self-deprecation and pain. It provides the brain relief from all the stacked up negative emotions by “dismissing them in exaggerated absurd.” The content should also be relatable and immediately understood by most people. Typically, relatable content elaborates on a person's daily struggles whether they are painful or mundane.

Mental illness memes have become viral due to their combination of dark humor and the absurd. Depression memes in particular appeal to a vast audience, especially to the present youth. The current generation is partially depending on the internet to help deal with their mental illness.

In today’s society, mental illness has become commonplace. So much so that Konrad Krawczyk, author of the article How Digital Natives Use Memes to Cope with Mental struggle, calls it an “epidemic”. With this premise, combined with the widespread use of computers and the internet being a “social habitat” for Gen Z and Millennials, memes have become the channels which help communicate to others the hardships they encounter while being affected by mental illnesses. Usually, these memes are about anxiety and depression.

Gen Z is considered the most mentally unstable demographic. In 2015, it was reported that the teens who suffered anxiety increased by 25%.  A research reveals that 60% of teens who have depression have left their condition untreated because they could not get proper help. Since the internet is easily accessible and free, internet communities give them a safe place to talk about their difficulties.


Kinds of Humor Related to Mental Illnesses

The type of humor an individual has may actually indicate what kind of mental illness they are suffering from, Cracked says. Listed below are the kinds of humor and the mental conditions they are associated with:

1.  Puns, slapstick, and stroke

If a person is easily entertained by puns and slapstick humor, this may be a result of brain damage. This is known as the condition Witzelsucht, which causes those affected by it to find the simplest forms of jokes funny. Sufferers may struggle to understand more complicated kinds of humor.

2. Having a hard time identifying  sarcasm and initial stages of Dementia

Since comprehending sarcasm involves a significant amount of brainpower, the inability to detect this may imply that a part of the brain is not working properly. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California, those who suffer from frontotemporal dementia had difficulty identifying sarcasm.

3. Dark humor and being a workaholic

A research shows that those who are workaholic have a tendency to have the inability to create or appreciate humor. Their kind of humor eventually takes the form of sarcasm, ridicule and caustic putdowns. As they grow more addicted to work, this may also take away their ability to feel pleasure in life.

4. Taking  themselves too seriously and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Someone who easily gets offended by people who makes jokes about them, whether it was well-intentioned or a comment about an insignificant matter, is said to be a person who is suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In connection to this, a study proves that internet trolls are narcissists.

5. No sense of humor and being delusional



For a person to find a certain joke humorous, it should reflect their inner values and beliefs. However, if they often deceive themselves about their set of beliefs and values, this could cause them to being unable to have a sense of humor. Since they are unable to specifically identify these, they tend not to find anything funny.


Impact of Memes In Promoting Awareness About  Mental Illnesses

Areo Magazine  states that while memes may raise public awareness about mental health, it has in essence, turned mental illness into a commodity, by romanticizing it and making it a public performance through the use of memes.

Mental illness memes are noted to give the humor and distance which allow people to share their struggles. From these, they may also form a community where they can converse about their problems. These may also help in lessening feelings of loneliness.

However, since these memes also tend to incite a casual discussion, this may also risk the romanticization of mental illnesses. It is clarified that romanticization does not always mean making something appear better than it actually is, but presenting it in a manner that does not actually depict its real nature. The nature portrayed may not always be positive, but the kind that a potential audience may want to be associated with or desire to become.

Since mental illness memes exhibit honesty and show the vulnerable side of being human, it arouses the interest of many who relate the aesthetic of being authentic and ordinary. These memes may depict feelings of despair, hopelessness, using self-destructive behaviors to cope and the like. Such feelings are not exclusive to those affected by mental illnesses, so even those who are not ill are able to identify with the memes.

A person creates a meme tailored to a certain kind of audience. They are made to be traded for what is deemed as “social media currency” such as retweets, upvotes, likes and reblogs. When someone makes their mental illness into a meme, it becomes a commodity used to amuse others.

In the process, their mental health problems are not just something that happens to them. Now, they have to consider how “sellable” it is to the audience, making the meme as attractive and accessible as they can. It is in this stage that their mental illness merely becomes a show to others, or a public performance where their experiences must be watched.

With the recent suicidal deaths of some famous comedians and celebrities, several awareness campaigns attempt to convince people to be more open in discussing mental illness. Although there have been numerous talks about this, people are not taught about the proper way to speak about it. Occasionally, they may try to take action but the tools for this are only limited.

These mental illness memes, while they may have some valuable information about mental illnesses, do very little to help. It is summarized in the statement, “Ultimately, as a culture, we over-rely on humor and pre-made, easily digestible formats to deliver important truths.”

People are advised to find more efficient alternative formats rather than memes to spread these important insights about mental illness and raising more awareness about them.


Mental illness memes are noted to give the humor and distance which allow people to share their struggles and lessening their feeling of loneliness / Photo by Getty Images




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