I’ve noticed a trend among young adults and teens.
Since mental illness and mental pain in our society is so silenced and scoffed at, ridiculed and invalidated, they make fun of it.
They have to make fun of mental illness in memes and stories on Tumblr, Facebook, and Instagram, SnapChat…teens and young adults share parodies and self-deprecating humor extraordinaire in group chats and when they actually meet face to face.
In his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, scientist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” from the Greek word for “mimesis,” meaning to imitate when describing the natural selection of transmittable ideas. So of course, we bastardized that word to mean funny images online.
The apathy of my Generation X certainly showed in our nihilism and absurdism. We really were lost, latchkey kids, left to our own devices. No one knew where we were or what we were doing. We raised ourselves. Our grunge music, art, and movies portray us as hopeless, jobless, depressed slackers. We just shrugged and sort of accepted it.
We didn’t have cell phone, Internet, or social media. We weren’t constantly connected. We broke up with lovers and friends and never had to see or speak to them again. Stalking was in real time, if at all.
We grew up in the vestiges of political correctness, etiquette, courtesy, politeness. We obeyed authority, but grumbled about it behind their backs. We didn’t have any solidarity. We had no one to fight or blame.
By the late 1990s, Boomers gained the greatest social, political, and economic influence worldwide, and also a multitude of long-percolating crises reached their boiling points – climate change, national debt, a shrinking middle class, and worse.
The Simpsons and other parodies and dystopias have opened a doorway into darker and darker humor. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Millennials and iGen are suffering from student debt and feelings of loss of the American dream that plagues past generations but is now nowhere in sight.
The nihilism and absurdity of memes that joke about dying and mental illness reflect a neo-Dada movement.
I wonder if we more openly discussed mental health in past generations would it have been more diagnosed and treated without so much stigma – or are society’s issues creating more mental illness in the last couple decades?
I’m a little bit in awe of today’s youth who are more thoughtful and aware and connected than any peer I’ve ever known.
They’ve never known a world without Internet, cell phones, social media.
Teens and young adults today recognize injustice and they speak out about it. They feel lost and alone, depressed and anxious, and they make memes, share stories, poetry, art online. They find their patrons, followers, comrades. They virtually rejoice together and curl up in fetal positions together.
Sometimes you just need to talk about something—not to get sympathy or help, but just to kill its power by allowing the truth of things to hit the air.Karen Salmansohn
Memes as Therapy
Humor breaks the ice.
When we see funny memes, we LOL or at least breathe out through our nose a little more harshly.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
Humor helps regulate our emotions.
Those of us with depression might have a darker sense of humor than most.
Cognitive reappraisal is more than just counting our blessings or telling ourselves to cheer up. We can sometimes thoughtfully internalize a meme without feeling attacked or reduced.
Affiliative humor are jokes that connect us with others. Self-enhancing humor is similar, find absurdity and joy in dark situations.
So many of us feel rejected – by parents, siblings, lovers, spouses, friends, pastors, society.
Memes are a way to show solidarity.
They can point out prejudice, -isms, injustice.
Memes can educate about marginalized groups. It’s not aggressive humor at another’s expense.
Yes, there is irony in sharing these memes. Social media brings exposure to an issue without adequately dealing with it. Social media is also a notorious breeding ground for negative behavior, and may exacerbate any feelings being shared.
We’re not trying to romanticize or trivializing mental illness with dark humor. While there is a risk of someone somewhere misconstruing or becoming offended, that is seldom the intent behind the memes.
I love seeing celebrities being vulnerable when they share memes or personal images and stories online.
It shows us that we are all human with roller coaster emotions or overcoming trauma.
We can work through those ups and downs in healthier ways than past generations.
Memes lighten the heaviness of therapy topics. Sharing could raise ideas I have gone to therapy or experienced struggles. Potential disclosure through a joke allows us to be vulnerable in a controlled way, using humor to communicate about sensitive topics.
Studies show depressed people who struggle to control their emotions are most likely to enjoy depressive memes.
When my teens and I share these memes, it helps me to understand what they’re going through and how I can help. Often it gives us info to take to our therapists.
Do some of these memes make me uncomfortable? Absolutely. And I think that’s what makes them so powerful. I can examine why and search my soul.
We share our experiences, opinions, and feelings easily with a relatable image.
When we share a meme and it gets spread, we feel seen We read comments. We connect. We laugh and cry together.
Memes can help destigmatize mental illness and help us feel a sense of community.
While many of feel isolated and have few IRL friends, we can connect online and make virtual friends.
We are not alone in our pain.
The pain seems to be overwhelming.
But sharing it makes it bearable.
We like to read about other people. We like to think we are not alone.
This is why we like science fiction, dystopias, speculation.
We want to see a cartoon of ourselves cocooned in blankets eating Cheetos on our devices avoiding responsibilities.
We need the chuckle of a WTF moment or a nod at someone else’s experience.
And even this, like all escaping from reality and pain, can dissolve into an unhealthy coping mechanism. It’s a tool, but it needs to be used wisely.
Therapist: And what do we say when we feel anxious or have a depressive episode?
Me: It just be like that sometimes.
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