Memes that inspire existential dread may seem depressing. But their devastating honesty is actually breaking down the taboos around talking about mental health, and helping people struggling with anxiety, depression and social isolation realise: they are not alone.
Headspace, Australia’s National Youth Foundation Centre, found that approaching mental health in a “non clinical” way, “Like finding a meme that captures your feelings and worries into a funny image,” is breaking down the stigma attached to talking about mental health issues, particularly among millennials. A far cry from the patronising stereotype that “dank” memes are a malevolent force that could damage our fragile mental states, dealing with these issues half-tongue-in-cheek actually makes them easier to handle.
“Two things make it easier to speak about difficult subjects: humour and distance — qualities that memes naturally provide,” (Headspace).
They may even be better than “health influencers” whose phoney inspirational quotes only make us feel worse about not being happy and shiny 24/7. In fact, Brock Bastian, an Australian psychologist, reckons stigma around negative emotions is one of the main causes of depression, and if people could just come to terms with the fact that it’s completely normal to feel down every now and again (as memes help us to realise), we would all be, on balance, happier.
This idea was really brought home in the Headspace investigation, when one volunteer revealed, “Making memes allowed me to discuss my experience with mental illness or the effects of trauma or even just the ugly parts of life and myself that I don’t usually display in a way where I wasn’t as scared that I would come off as too ‘intense’ or ‘heavy’…”
what you call a nervous breakdown i call oops, accidentally saw things as they are
— so sad today (@sosadtoday) June 25, 2018
“The idea is that when people find themselves in a context where happiness is highly valued, it sets up a sense of pressure that they should feel that way,” Bastian told Quartz. So when we experience failure, we “ruminate about why (we) are not feeling the way (we) think (we) should be feeling,” further worsening our state of mind. Which is why it’s better to look reality (and memes) straight in the face.