“Defrosting my anxiety because term three finals are coming up!” “Each Winnie the Pooh character represents a psychological disorder, take this test to figure out which one you are!”
These entertaining posts and quizzes about mental health fill social networking platforms, like TikTok and Twitter, and receive thousands of likes. While social media has proven crucial in raising awareness and sharing resources regarding mental health, for instance, suicide hotlines, it comes with risks.
One of the most notable dangers of social media is its reliance as a coping mechanism, such as by posting jokes about one’s mental health. Using social media to manage mental health stressors has trivialized the issue by normalizing unhealthy behaviors and furthering stigmatization. Thus, it is necessary for everyone to be more self-aware when posting related content.
Social media platforms are breeding grounds for dark humor. Anyone can easily make self-deprecating jokes for the chance of going viral, as it is seen as “quirky” and relatable to the current generation. Unfortunately, this has led people to turn mental illnesses into a trend and think that their unhealthy thoughts and behaviors are not a genuine concern. These habits include seeking perfection, losing sleep or experiencing emotional burnout. Such behavior prompts both children and parents to believe that everyone experiences certain symptoms; thus, they do not reach out for the help that they may need.
Darkly humorous content feeds into the stigma that already exists around mental health challenges. According to Carine Badawi (II), “Stigma is often the result of not understanding or fearing something. Inaccurate perception in the media of mental illness contributes to […] [the] stigma that is commonly associated with mental illness.”
Stigma creates a plethora of consequences. By isolating those experiencing mental health challenges, they feel as if no one understands them or they are being brushed off. In addition, it increases judgment from friends and family. Ultimately, this becomes a significant barrier to recovery, which is ironic as the original purpose of using social media was to cope with mental health challenges.
On the other hand, jokes about mental illnesses create a generalized characterization of those with mental illnesses that are oversimplified or medically inaccurate. Media often portrays what is the easiest to accept so that it can reach a larger audience; their focus is to make the most engaging rather than informative content.
Dr. Amy Kaye, the Boston Latin School clinician, elaborates, “Where people sometimes struggle is that when you see all that information on social media and you don’t have a person that is trained to help you think through for you specifically, it can be very overwhelming, frustrating and triggering […] With self-diagnosis, people automatically [think] […] their life is over.”
We understand it is unrealistic when Google suggests we have brain cancer simply because we have a headache. There is not, however, the same level of awareness and education on mental health so that everyone recognizes that symptoms of mental illnesses also vary in severity and expression. It can be dangerous, therefore, for us to post dark humor about mental health challenges as it easily leads people down the wrong rabbit hole.
Gian Martinez (I) points out, “It’s important not to invalidate anyone’s coping mechanisms, as we all have our own ways of dealing with things […] [such as] dark humor.” Many use dark humor to better understand and express their emotions, but it is not a long-term solution.
There are a few ways to combat this. First, simply refrain from making self-disparaging content, and instead express feelings through other methods such as journaling or talking to a friend. Alternatively, indicating on a post that it is satirical and encouraging viewers to look for professionals and reliable sources if they to it can also decrease the risks.
It is a top priority to express concerns and have discussions on mental health, but it becomes problematic when we normalize the existence and symptoms of mental illnesses. In order to avoid that, we must be more aware and cautious of the content we post on social media.