Lilly Leif is an English sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
With today’s political climate filled with seemingly never-ending turmoil, it is harder to cope with everything happening around us. Reacting to this, Generation Z (those born from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s) is redefining coping mechanisms with a sense of humor that is a little bit… well, twisted. All over social media, there is a plethora of memes oriented on or around the topics of depression, suicide and mental health, all changing the way we look at mental illness.
This cynical and dark style of humor was not always as prominent as it is now. We may owe this newfound style of humor to unsettling world events. Trump’s election, an abundance of mass shootings, the deadly California wildfires and the untimely deaths of our favorite celebrities have left us to cope with these dark events by battling them with a dark sense of humor.
Essentially, Generation Z is desensitized. There are few things that provide any shock factor anymore. Having grown up in a world where bad news is normal, our sense of humor is a product of our environment.
The first form of the “depression meme” took hold back in 2012 with the meme known as the “Kill Me Meme,” which was inspired by the movie “Alien” during which one of the main characters begs for death. Others seemed to find this act of longing for death humorously relatable and began to make jokes about it. Flash forward to 2018,and it is clear that “depression memes” are the embodiment of youth humor today. By changing traditional humor, this dark humor has rooted itself in our culture.
All over Twitter, there are various posts that humorously refer to the overwhelming burden of mental health issues or even wanting to die. More young people are diagnosed with depression than any previous generation, and turning to Twitter is a socially accepted outlet for joking about the pain one is experiencing. It is difficult to articulate what a depression meme is without seeing one, but they are an absurd form of humor. Think, for example, of the classic “Saturday Night Live” skit “Dear Sister,” better known as the “Mmm Watcha Say Skit.” In this skit, several characters shoot each other multiple times while the song, “Whatcha Say” plays in the background. While this sounds ridiculous, it is a very similar style to the sense of humor found in depression memes today — confusing and dark, but also hilarious. This twisted humor is further seen in various shows from “Adult Swim,” especially the ever-popular “Rick and Morty.”
Personally, I find making jokes about my depression has helped me cope with it. Sometimes it is easier to show my friends a picture of Kermit the Frog hurling himself off a six-story building and say “this is what I feel like right now,” rather than try to give an in-depth testimony about what is bothering me. I have found that laughter has helped me through the worst times in my life — even if the laughter is about something so dark. Being so open about what was once considered a taboo topic has helped generate healthy dialogue about my mental illness.
But I do understand the backlash these memes receive. While “depression memes” can serve as a positive catalyst for destigmatizing mental illness, some people believe these memes romanticize depression. Making light of depression can sometimes lead others to believe it is not that serious or something the person suffering from it can control. According to the article, “The Sad Truth About Depressing Memes,” author Otis Roffman writes that “[depression memes] can easily spread and perpetuate harmful messages surrounding mental health issues.” Roffman suggests that by being exposed to more sensitive content, a person can be more susceptible to influence from social media. Therefore, after seeing so many posts about depression, they may think that they too are suffering from depression or anxiety when they actually aren’t. Or perhaps they may find themselves wanting in on the joke. They, therefore, will take on the mindset that depression is quirky and relatable, not a diagnosed mental illness.
Regardless of whether a person is positively or negatively impacted by these posts, it is irrefutable that they can create a conversation about mental illness. If one views these posts and is upset by them, it creates an opportunity to actively discuss how to improve mental health awareness. Likewise, if someone else views the same post and finds it humorous, they may find a group of online users who share the same experiences as them and can help them develop strategies for combating their depression symptoms. Whether or not one finds depression memes to be funny or offensive, clearly they bring about discussion. Because of the lack of mental health awareness in today’s society, these memes (as absurd as they can be) are catalysts for awareness, which will always be necessary for improving society’s outlook on mental health and treatment.