Trigger warning: This article contains discussion about mental illness.
What is a meme? Imagine your grandfather asking you this. I mean the word “meme” is even funny to pronounce. So you say, “Grandpa it’s just like sayings, pictures and GIF’s on the Internet that are really hilarious.” He still doesn’t get it.
A viral meme is probably posted or reposted every .2 seconds (that is not an actual statistic, just my own guesstimate.) And, I know, it’s really hard to get serious when talking about memes. I mean come on, no one can mention Harambe without a few giggles in the audience, but a discussion about memes needs to happen.
Millennials and Generation Z grew up on the Internet. The Internet is a way to freely express yourself, your ideas and your opinions to anyone, with or without your identity needing to be known. We are also a generation surrounded by fast-pace change and social justice movements.
Just in the last few years, gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., there’s more knowledge and discussion about the transgender community, a woman is successfully running for president of this country, there’s activism to fight and prevent sexual assault and there’s a fight to de-stigmatize mental illness.
The last movement is one I want to talk about and how memes are working against it.
According to CDC research, “only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.” About one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
We’ve all experienced stress before. Whether it’s from school, work or your love life, no one is exempt from feeling the constant pressures of the world. For some of us, it’s something felt everyday and for others, it’s only once in awhile.
Our generation is trying harder than previous generations to try to express our feelings, get help for mental illness and try to convey mental illness can happen to anyone and no one is exempt from it. Yet our “casual” conversations with our peers and the memes we share on social media combat this fight to de-stigmatize mental health.
Most recently, Drake released a single titled “Two Birds, One Stone,” a diss track about Pusha T and Kid Cudi. Last month, Cudi went on a rant against Drake and Kanye for having people write their songs, but a few days later he checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal thoughts.
In his track, Drake raps, “You were the Man on the Moon, now you go through your phases / Life of the angry and famous.” The rapper is calling Cudi’s depression a phase, which is a thought reinforced by much of society and pop culture. The seriousness of mental health isn’t often talked about in our pop culture, education system and social media.
I, myself, and many of you have casually thrown around, “______ makes me want to kill myself.” The blank can be an upcoming test, a fight with a significant other or having to do a chore. If schoolwork, a breakup or a simple task is too much to handle, seek counseling, but do not joke about it; for some people, these things are actually too much to bear. And while the mental illness activists seek to normalize the conversation about mental health, joking about it isn’t normal.
Here are a few examples of memes commonly seen and shared on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and other social media sites.
Social media is a great way to freely express your feelings. It isn’t a safe place when your mental health or another’s is a joke. Severe depression isn’t funny, and social anxiety isn’t something to laugh about. Suicidal thoughts aren’t something to shrug off.
Trying to normalize the conversation about mental health is progress; normalizing mental illness is a digression from getting to the root of the issue. To me, it often seems like social media is a place of competition, not only to see who can get the most likes or reports, but also to see who has the most problems, who’s the most stressed today, who has cried the most or feels the worst.
While I praise people on social media for realizing depression, stress and mental illness are complications in their lives. The issues are being covered up with humor, and if someone is really feeling like they cannot get out of bed, they need to seek help from a professional. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, there are several resources available.
UMD Mental Health Services: (301) 314-8106
Online resources: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (2433) – Can use in US, U.K., Canada and Singapore Suicide Crisis Line: 1-800-999-9999
National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
National Adolescent Suicide Helpline: 1-800-621-4000
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Amber on Flickr.
Allie Melton is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.