This past Tuesday was World Mental Health Day. This marked another step in bringing mental health out from under the shrouds of secrecy and misplaced notions of what it means to be normal. I applaud the strides that my generation has made in acknowledging the importance of mental health care, which have made more people aware of these issues. But I believe that alongside raising awareness, we also need to stop trivializing mental illness.
It’s become fashionable
Scanning social media feeds, you can see it’s become fashionable to have a mental illness. There are quizzes to determine how OCD you might be. A friend might make a casual remark to another about how ‘bipolar’ they can be in relationships, and said friend is expected to respond, ‘I know, right! Especially around that time of the month’. Wink, wink.
I recently saw a meme floating around the ether:
I’m not Bipolar
That means I Cry & Laugh
While I beat The shit out
(Random capitalizations have been preserved.)
Another meme proclaims:
I’m 50 shades of Bipolar
And I have no safe word
You have been warned
The words in this meme are splashed onto an image of a woman smiling and holding a cup of coffee.
These memes are “hilarious”. They normalize the idea of mental illness, but then take it one step further by trivializing it. I can imagine pimple-faced teenagers guffawing at the images as they pass them on to their friends. Middle-aged men and women giggling and tagging their friends in the comment section.
That’s you! They shriek to one another, expecting responses of LOL! LMAO! I know right!
The memes are edgy in a self-conscious way that screams, ‘I may feel unstable, but look at how seriously I don’t take myself!’. These memes live in a gray area where mental illness exists but only in a few people. And those are the certifiably psychotic people. They have shoddy relationships and wreck their lives in a Girl Interrupted sort of way. There’s never any doubt that they have a mental illness because they fit the general idea of what mental illness looks like.
Maybe they’re struggling
Perhaps the people sharing those memes can relate to the uncertainty mental illness creates. Maybe they’re struggling with a warped sense of who they think they are versus who they believe they should be. So in some ways, these memes give them vocabulary to express that uncertainty.
These meme creators might obsessively track the calories they eat and put in an extra 3 hours at the gym to make up for the extra beer at their friend’s bachelor party. They might check their fiancée’s phone, but it’s only because she’s been working late in a male-dominated office, and they’re convinced it’s only a matter of time until… Maybe they’ve been under a lot of pressure to deliver on impossible sales numbers in order to receive a bonus they’ve already spent.
Talking to someone would be great, but there’s nothing really wrong with them. They have a nice job, a great apartment and a normal upbringing. Nothing to justify taking on the burden of a formal diagnosis. They don’t belong in that gray area.
It’s a joke because it’s true
So they make fun of it because then it’s just a joke. And it’s a joke, because it’s true.
My first time seeing these memes, it was uncomfortable. I started to track down the Facebook page that created the meme and the person behind the Facebook page. But looking in just unearthed this entire subculture of edgy sarcasm my SJW brain couldn’t handle.
But, seriously — what is the point of fighting to bring mental illness to the forefront of public health discussions if we’re going to continue perpetuating the stereotypes associated with these illnesses?
Reproduced with permission, originally published here