A Therapist’s Perspective on Mental Health Memes

Are funny therapy memes having a positive affect on mental health? We spoke with a therapist to get her thoughts.

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May 11, 2022 UPDATED
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Funny therapy memes don’t require an evaluation, a prescription, or a co-pay. And some find that the visual images, bullet points, and jokes are an easier entry-point to confronting and discussing mental health issues as compared to reading longer articles. 

Do you find funny therapy memes and mental health humor amusing or annoying?

What do therapists think about memes?

Consider the image below. A woman appears to be in overdrive— typing, vacuuming, and posing all at once. She stares both into the camera and away from it, simultaneously grinning and stone-faced.

The caption says: “I can only complete tasks if the vibes are exactly right. It’s called having ADHD.”

adhd meme

The image above, which may seem absurd—or even rude—to some, is a mental health meme from the popular Instagram page @binchcity, and it’s one of thousands.

Social media’s impacts on the wellbeing and mental health of teens and adults have been the subject of countless studies. The possible detriments are increasingly clear. 

Social media’s effects on adults can be dire as well—there are even diagnoses hinging on the consequences of overexposure.

What are mental health memes? 

Loosely defined, mental health memes are combinations of images and text that relate to therapy humor and other  mental health experiences. 

Therapy memes have gained popularity in recent years. Americans searching on Google for mental health memes started spiking 6-7 years ago. And, along with this rise in interest, has come increased scrutiny and attention. 

Some have pointed out that mental health memes have the potential to leave those who come across them feeling worse than they did before. Eleanor Morgan wrote in Refinery29 about her view that the memes can be harnessed for profit by opportunistic influencers-turned-life-coaches, and trigger those who happen upon them unexpectedly. 

On the other hand, many creators of mental health memes say they began crafting the images as a way of dealing with their own traumas. 

Erin Taylor, the creator behind the Instagram page @atmfiend, told Mashable that creating, sharing, and taking part in the community around mental health memes helps her work through her own mental health struggles. 

But, what do mental health professionals think?

patrick stewart therapy meme

What do mental health professionals think about therapy memes? 

Mental health professionals, like any other group, don’t all share one monolithic view about anything. 

“I love mental health memes,” says Greta MacMillan, LCSW. “I follow so many accounts.” 

MacMillan says that she often shares mental health memes with her clients, and feels they are, “a really good way of getting important information out there to people…especially around education.”

Sometimes there’s a lot of information shared during a therapy session. Clients may leave uncertain of how to parse and act upon the advice and information they’ve just received. 

MacMillan believes mental health memes can help distill complicated topics, making them “easier for people to digest.”

“There’s a graphic about setting boundaries,” MacMillan often shares with her clients, because it’s “super succinct” in conveying necessary and complex information with her clients. 

She describes these funny images’ clarity of communicating complex ideas as one of the keys to their functionality. Images that can help to explain a mental health experience can serve as a complement to more in-depth and comprehensive discussions.

MacMillan’s clients tell her the memes are helpful to them.

For people who discover therapy and mental health memes on social media outside a clinical context, they may serve as a catalyst for the desire to learn more about mental health, and even to pursue therapy. 

6 things to know for your first therapy session

Two types of therapy memes

There are two basic types of mental health memes, although they often overlap. 

Informational mental health memes

The first is informational memes, which present facts about a disorder, coping strategy, or other piece of mental health information.

They might also break down a breathing or visualization exercise, or offer tips for recognizing everything from an unhealthy relationship dynamic to a panic attack. 

“I think it’s really helpful to help describe a diagnostic label, or describe a set of symptoms,” says MacMillan. The boundary-setting graphic that she shares with her clients falls into this category. 

Inigo Montoya mental health meme about OCD.

Funny mental health memes

The other category of memes is simpler—basically, they’re jokes.

The meme mentioned at the beginning of this article uses humor to make a point that—if the large number of likes and comments on the photo are any indication—many people with ADHD seem to relate to. 

MacMillan says she often employs dark humor in her own practice, as well as when grappling with trauma she has experienced herself. In this way, she’s witnessed first-hand how laughter can serve as a coping and bonding mechanism.

According to a January 2020 study published in the journal Nature titled “Exploratory study on the role of emotion regulation in perceived valence, humor, and beneficial use of depressive internet memes in depression,” depression memes can be helpful for people experiencing depressive symptoms. 

”When I was in my twenties none of this was out there,” MacMillan says. She believes it would’ve been helpful to be able to go online and be immediately connected with people whose experiences reflected her own.

According to MacMillan, "You might meet people by interacting with a mental health meme, because the social media around the meme can become like a support group.”

She points out that, in addition to spreading information and providing a needed dose of humor, they help normalize experience for people and build camaraderie. 

How your trauma brain impacts your reaction to something good happening.

Because online conversation can flatten out nuance MacMillan says it’s important to take everything you see online with a grain of salt. 

Not everyone who interacts with a mental health meme may truly understand or respect the experience it relates to.

Ultimately, though, MacMillan says she “definitely thinks the benefits outweigh the negatives.”

Need to find a therapist near you? Check out the SimplePractice Monarch Directory to find licensed mental health therapists with availability and online booking.

Article originally published Oct 22, 2021. Updated May 11, 2022.

Akram, U., Drabble, J., Cau, G., Hershaw, F., Rajenthran, A., Lowe, M., Ellis, J. G. (2020). Exploratory study on the role of emotion regulation in perceived valence, humour, and beneficial use of depressive internet memes in depression. Scientific Reports, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-57953-4    

Vogels, E. A. (2021, June 22). Digital divide persists even as Americans with lower incomes make gains in tech adoption. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/22/digital-divide-persists-even-as-americans-with-lower-incomes-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/   

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