Memes are a valid form of expression and they can help us articulate the difficult, and often stigmatized, effects of depression.
By Han Angus
Memes in 2017 are a form of communication. We laugh with memes, we cry with memes and we express our annoyance with memes. I have over 500 of them saved on my phone for a variety of reasons and occasions.
One day I may need a Tiffany Pollard meme to tell everyone that I am in fact THAT BITCH and the next I may want to use one of an animated character with seemingly randomized emoji hearts placed all over the place to indicate my love for someone. Memes are incredibly versatile not only in what they mean, but how they are used. People can use memes to express emotions or facial expressions that are limited by the languages we are using. That’s why they’ve become a coping mechanism for many online suffering from depression.
I’ve suffered from depression from the age of 12, I’m not quite sure what brought it on as there was both a family history of mental health issues and I experienced bullying throughout my teens, but it got worse with age. I have been a Twitter user since 2013, and witnessed the change of the platform as well as how our collective content started to lean more towards openness and the de-stigmatization of poor mental health.
Jokes about being depressed have always existed but when I tried to make one in 2015, I was told I was making a mockery of those who actually suffer from the illness as if my experiences were not valid because I wanted to take a lighthearted approach to dealing with what was so deeply troubling me. In order to not upset people I refrained from doing it again. Looking back it is clear that it was one of few outlets I had to speak about my mental health.
My twitter persona had somewhat shifted during after that, I was always been a stan account (an online account for fans of celebrities, shows or movies), however, I outgrew it when I became 16. I had tried to be friends with more liberal or leftist people, however, they had no regard for my mental health and bullied me off my account to the point I had started experience episodes of deeper depression which affected my sleeping and eating habits. I was barely going out, I gained weight and I stopped socializing with my friends unless I was forced to go out. As a psychology student I knew I was depressed but I was under the impression that I couldn’t name it for what it was without a doctor, which I eventually resolved to do this year.
I came back to my main account and I was changed (as cliche as that sounds). I wanted to speak about the pain I was feeling but I wasn’t sure how to do so. What I did notice was that people were now using memes to discuss mental health more openly, which surprised me because when I dipped my toe into the meme/mental health pool, I was told that it was trivializing our experiences. However, those jokes made me feel better. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t imagining the way I was feeling. I now understand that a coping mechanism doesn’t always have to be something that people assume would relax you—hey can be something which makes you laugh, they can poke fun at how you feel, and how absolutely mad it is that “this” is happening.
Jaboukie Young-White is a standup comedian and Twitter personality who uses the platform to explore subjects such as mental health, socialism and race. When asked about using memes to deal with depressive episodes, he had this to say:
“Using memes as a coping mechanism for depression or is totally valid. For me, the magic of memes has always been their ability to highlight shared experiences of hundreds/thousands of people. It’s much healthier than bottling up your emotions and i think it’s genuinely done a lot in terms of decreasing stigma against -some- MI.”
I tweeted ‘depression culture is cutting your hair off randomly’ earlier this year on my now deleted account as part of the ‘_____culture is’ meme and the response was overwhelmingly supportive. I had so many people telling me that they were happy someone else could relate because that made them feel less alone and that laughing at their depression made them feel better. Yes, using memes and jokes as coping mechanisms can make you feel better. I’m not saying it’s a replacement for actual mental health help, such as therapy or meds but for those of us who have no way of getting help it’s a damn good solution.