Teens and memes go hand in hand, as memes are usually the go-to choice for laughs and personal expression. In case you’ve heard the word but don’t have a firm grasp on what it means, a meme is a unique photo, idea, or social artifact that’s spread widely through social media. Videos, captioned images, relatable circumstances, and widely popular celebrities or issues can all be considered memes.
As funny and ridiculous as memes can be, some Gen Zers have found a unique use for them: to express their feelings, emotions, and mental states as part of dealing with their mental health. Although there are some darker memes that deal with depression and suicide, there are others that are positive and unabashedly uplifting. While memes should never be a replacement for therapy, they can offer a playful way for teens to express what they might not otherwise feel ready or able to discuss.
Why teens gravitate toward mental health memes
Mental health issues are very real and can be extremely hard to cope with. But memes are typically lighthearted and humorous, so combining the two simply offers a less threatening avenue for mental health expression. They sort of poke fun at difficulties by using a funny image or snippet of text to represent a certain life situation. By making light of something personal, these memes can actually be empowering in the face of mental health issues because when the meme-creator is in charge, it allows that person to be as open or closed as they’d like to be. So in sharing something funny with a hint of personal truth, their peers can laugh along with the meme because they can relate, too.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Anxiety and depression memes
The meme is playful, yet still drives home the fact that anxiety makes us stress over things we know won’t happen. Our brains convince us of impending doom despite how ridiculous it may be—and so, humor and seriousness blend into one.
When a teen shares a meme like this, it shows us that he or she can relate to it in some way, giving us a tiny glimpse into their world. But it’s also important to remember that this is a meme and it’s supposed to be funny and lighthearted, so don’t take it too seriously! Just because your teen shared a meme about some mental health issue, it doesn’t automatically mean that they’re in immediate danger. Chances are they just thought it was funny, and there’s no real need to panic.
If you’re unsure whether or not to take the meme too seriously, try asking some non-threatening questions to get a conversation started, rather than rushing your kid to the first psychologist you can find. If your teen does want to express their thoughts on the issue, be open and inviting to welcome that dialog. If they seem to get uncomfortable or ask not to talk about it, let them know that you’re there, that you care, and that they can talk when they’re ready. Instead of trying to force a conversation, just let them know that they’re seen, heard, and valued (even if they don’t feel like talking, which is totally normal).
Therapist: "And what do we say when we feel like this?"
Me: "Less depressy more progressy"
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) June 9, 2019
This is a commonly used format in which a therapist asks a question, and the person responds with something sarcastic or flat out wrong, resulting in a sigh-filled “no” from the therapist. Again, it hints at a deeper issue (feeling lonely, sad, depressed, etc.) while making light of it through a funny response.
It’s worth highlighting again that this is just a meme, and it’s meant to be taken lightly! So if your teen shares something like it, don’t panic. While the memes can definitely offer some truth, they’re most often made up scenarios written for laughs and likes.
Mental health memes can also be purposefully uplifting:
This man is scootering as fast as he can to get to his friends so that he can give them all of his support, communicating the idea that the person who posted it wants to be there for their friends and lift them up whenever they can. It’s especially beautiful because memes like this starkly contrast with the negativity and bullying some teens can experience online.
Continuing with the same theme, this meme shows a dog “smooshing” unconditional love, support, and affection into the face of the fox next to him. It’s sweet, encouraging, and lets others know they’re not alone.
And another one:
The meme is a jokingly “aggressive” display of love for someone who’s been down on him/herself. One word at a time the person literally stomps into the camera the phrase “Can you please stop calling yourself ugly you’re fine ASF” with lots of heart emojis. “You’re fine ASF” is a vulgar term (see our Parent’s Guide to Teen Slang) that basically means you are so beautiful/handsome.
And last but not least, one of the most fun meme creators is Motivational Dancing Guy. His videos consist of him doing a fun dance while motivational text splashes across the screen. What’s interesting about him is that he’s not saying anything new or ground-breaking (“u have a purpose!”), but he’s becoming popular because he’s speaking Gen Z’s language by using video, dance, a little bit of sass, and Instagram. Because social media can often be a negative influence in everyone’s lives, it’s refreshing to them to see someone being consistently positive and encouraging.
Wow, so there’s a lot to a meme, huh?
Yes! Some of us who are *ahem* older may think memes are irrelevant, confusing, or even silly, but our teens genuinely feel a deep connection to them, especially those tackling mental health. So the next time you see one pop up in your teen’s posts, or if they happen to share something mental health related, start a conversation about it. Try asking these questions:
- Do you relate to this meme?
- Do you take memes like this seriously?
- Do you think your peers might be going through similar things?