" />
close icon

what are you looking for?

close icon

badges you can earn

earn editorial badges by uploading a number of stories.
  • 1
  • 10
    senior writer
  • 20
    sub - editor
  • 50
close icon

Sign Up

use your university email address to create your account.

Username already exists, please use another email address.

Please ensure all fields aren't empty

  • Please Select
  • Abertay University
  • Aberystwyth University
  • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Anglo-European College of Chiropractic
  • Arden University
  • Arts University Bournemouth
  • Ashridge Executive Education
  • Aston University
  • Bangor University
  • Bath Spa University
  • Birkbeck University of London
  • Birmingham City University
  • Bishop Grosseteste University
  • Bournemouth University
  • BPP University
  • British School of Osteopathy
  • Brunel University
  • Bucks New University
  • Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University
  • Cardiff University
  • City, University of London
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Coventry University
  • Cranfield University
  • De Montfort University
  • Durham University
  • Edge Hill University
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • European School of Economics
  • Falmouth University
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Guildhall School of Music and Drama
  • Harper Adams University
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Heythrop College, University of London
  • Imperial College London
  • Keele University
  • King's College London
  • Kingston University
  • Lancaster University
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Leeds College of Art
  • Leeds Trinity University
  • Liverpool Hope University
  • Liverpool John Moores University
  • London Business School
  • London Metropolitan University
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • London South Bank University
  • Loughborough University
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Middlesex University
  • Newcastle University
  • Newman University, Birmingham
  • Northumbria University
  • Norwich University of the Arts
  • Nottingham Trent University
  • Oxford Brookes University
  • Plymouth College of Art
  • Plymouth Marjon University
  • Plymouth University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Queen's University Belfast
  • Regent's University London
  • Robert Gordon University
  • Rose Bruford College
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Royal Agricultural University
  • Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  • Royal College of Art
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • Royal Veterinary College
  • School of Advanced Study
  • Scotland's Rural College
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • SOAS, University of London
  • Southampton Solent University
  • St George's, University of London
  • St Mary's University, Twickenham
  • Staffordshire University
  • Swansea University
  • Teesside University
  • The American International University in London
  • The London Institute of Banking & Finance
  • The Open University
  • The University of Law
  • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
  • Ulster University
  • University College Birmingham
  • University College London
  • University College of Estate Management
  • University for the Creative Arts
  • University of Aberdeen
  • University of Bath
  • University of Bedfordshire
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bolton
  • University of Bradford
  • University of Brighton
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Buckingham
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Central Lancashire
  • University of Chester
  • University of Chichester
  • University of Cumbria
  • University of Derby
  • University of Dundee
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of East London
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • University of Gloucestershire
  • University of Greenwich
  • University of Hertfordshire
  • University of Huddersfield
  • University of Hull
  • University of Kent
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Lincoln
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of London
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Northampton
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • University of Portsmouth
  • University of Reading
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Salford
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of South Wales
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Stirling
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Suffolk
  • University of Sunderland
  • University of Surrey
  • University of Sussex
  • University of the Arts
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
  • University of the West of England
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • University of Wales
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David
  • University of Warwick
  • University of West London
  • University of Westminster
  • University of Winchester
  • University of Wolverhampton
  • University of Worcester
  • University of York
  • Wrexham Glyndwr University
  • Writtle University College
  • York St John University

By creating an account you agree to the uni news Terms and Conditions, and agree to receive marketing communications.

close icon

subscribe to uni news

get the latest articles straight to your inbox.

mental health memes

Making life ‘memeingful’: the unspoken solidarity of mental health memes

I’m the ‘funny friend.’

I’m that person you see on your timeline who regularly shares all those idiotic memes; ranging from the funny mental health memes, the sad and downright weird. With people often coming to me as the source of their most relevant memes, I think it’s clear that I probably need to go outside a bit more and get a life. I’ve made a reputation for myself as somebody who never takes life seriously and is always up for a laugh—especially if it’s in the form of a political meme or a sarcastic tweet. But what if I told you that I have OCD, anxiety and depression which, at its worst, led to me spending most of Year 13 too paralysed with fear to function?

If you look deeper into my timeline, you might find the odd post alluding to depression naps, self-sabotage or oversharing. It's usually buried beneath layers of humour. After all, aren’t mental health memes just the ‘norm’ now? Aren’t they just a branch of dark humour that we should take with a pinch of salt?

I think it’s good, firstly, to consider that the relationship between mental health and comedy traces back a lot further than memes. In 1975, for example, psychologist Samuel Janus published a now frequently-cited study into this relationship. He studied 55 successful stand-up comedians of the time—people who literally made a living out of being the ‘funny friend’- and found that 80% of them had sought therapy for mental health issues. He ultimately theorised that comedians use humour as ‘a language of protest’ against the all-consuming feelings of anxiety and depression, which eventually puts them back in control over their emotions and ‘permits them to function.’

Although I might not be a stand-up comedian (I definitely should be though, I’m hilarious), I think that this study has a point. I obviously can’t speak for every person with mental health issues, but myself, and several others I know, humour is an important coping mechanism that I credit a lot of my functioning to. If you live a life where everything is wholly clouded and consumed with dense, inexplicable darkness, humour provides a crack of light between the clouds, showing you that one day they will clear.

My depression, anxiety and OCD have taken so much time and enjoyment away from my life, I feel like sometimes I will never be the person I was before these illnesses took hold of me.

With humour, however, I feel like I am getting a little piece of my old self back. Ultimately, I share mental health memes because I believe that making light of your issues gives you a sense of control over an illness that often has the habit of taking control over you. These memes don’t give the intrusive thoughts or intense hopelessness you experience the attention they need to survive. They diminish their importance and reduce them to what they are: an inconvenient part of our life that we can laugh off and then brush aside.

Memes, then, are an extension to this vitally important relationship between comedy and mental health. They put the power back in your hands and remind you that you are not your illness: your illness is just a part of you.

Mental health memes are especially helpful because they often depict a situation or scenario that you can relate to. Seeing a meme that references something unique to your experience makes you realise that whoever created it, whether they be in a completely different city, country or continent, feels the same way that you do. The very existence of the meme challenges the feelings of loneliness and isolation that come as a result of mental illnesses. While your mind is always telling you that you’re a freak and nobody will ever understand you, the internet says different.

The main argument against mental health memes is that they do more harm than good.

Some people say that these memes reinforce toxic behaviour patterns, encouraging us whiny millennials to indulge in our problems rather than taking proactive steps to solve them. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like many people, I find it hard to talk openly about my mental health. The truth is that the world isn’t in a position where we can talk about the intricacies of living with mental illness. Nobody wants to hear about how it affects your eating habits, hygiene and relationships. With memes, in turn, appearing to broach that subject, it offers a comfortable middle ground for us. They help to bridge that gap between complete silence and full disclosure and slowly, but surely open up a dialogue.

As Janus said in his study, humour acts as a ‘defence against inescapable panic and anxiety’, and I firmly believe that mental health memes are bringing that lifesaving line of defence into the 21st century; they are the first step in opening up a dialogue about mental health that we desperately need to progress and help each other survive.