Why This Viral Therapy Meme Isn't Really About Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s associate mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
On June 22, Twitter user @cakefacedcutie shared a meme of Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande that has since been shared over 31,000 times. The image features the pair holding hands while Grande looks lovingly at Davidson, mid-lollipop lick. The words “men that need therapists” are written over Davidson’s face and “me” is written over Grande.
— ???????????????????????????????? (@cakefacedcutie) June 23, 2018
Reactions to the viral meme have been mixed. Some have found the meme relatable based on their own relationship experiences. Others have claimed the meme fetishizes mental illness by implying certain men are attractive because they are “mentally unstable.”
On first glance, the meme certainly appears to be another example of shaming Grande and Davidson’s relationship because of Davidson’s borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnosis. After all, when news broke that the pair were dating shortly after Grande ended her “toxic” relationship with Mac Miller, social media users were quick to say she traded one toxic relationship for another — implying people with BPD cannot be in loving and stable relationships.
The criticism prompted Davidson to address this harmful stereotype. “Just because someone has a mental illness does not mean they can’t be happy and in a relationship,” he wrote on his Instagram story. “It also doesn’t mean that person makes the relationship toxic. Everybody is different and there are a lot of treatments for mental illnesses and I have done/am doing all of them.”
Given this history, it would be silly to say Davidson’s mental health diagnosis played no role in the meaning of the meme. But whether it was intended or not, this meme is actually less of a commentary on Grande and Davidson’s relationship specifically, and more about how female partners can often fill the role of “therapist” in their relationships with men.
In fact, this isn’t the first time the “men that need therapists” -type meme has surfaced. The tweets below highlight the same theme of a female partner supporting, nurturing or being a caregiver for a male partner.
a good meme that is true for everyone bc all men need therapists pic.twitter.com/5aCBV5sEmC
— Kath Barbadoro Extended Podcast Universe (@kathbarbadoro) April 13, 2018
me + men who need therapists pic.twitter.com/ZXfyuOWza1
— fairy god mom (@lyxopk) March 30, 2018
As one Twitter user pointed out, the Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson “men who need therapists” meme doesn’t stem from fetishizing mental illness, it’s more about “the simple fact that men use women as emotional outlets/therapists bc society doesn’t raise them to comfortably express their feelings except to their SO.”
who’s gonna explain to men that the men who need therapists meme didn’t stem from “fetishization” of mental illness but frm the simple fact that men use women as emotional outlets/therapists bc society doesn’t raise them to comfortably express their feelings except to their SO
— amanda ◡̈⃝ (@amandahest) June 26, 2018
This is something clinical psychologist Wizdom Powell commented on in an interview with Tonic. “When men suffer from mental health problems in silence and fall victim to substance abuse or suicide, it’s often women and girls who are left to pick up the pieces and take on caregiving burdens.”
We need to talk about men’s mental health not just because it is affecting the women who support them, but because so many men are struggling. Of the 41,149 Americans who died by suicide in 2013, 77.9 percent were men. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate is 3.5 times higher among men than among women — yet, men are still less likely than women to seek help for mental health issues.
If you are a man struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone. Mighty contributor Tom Barron has a word of encouragement to share.
I am a man, comfortable with my masculinity, who struggles with chronic depression and general anxiety disorder (GAD). I’m excellent at covering it up when I need to, but awful at handling it when I don’t… You don’t need to suffer in silence. Take the steps to help yourself, and to better your mental health. Men who can talk about their emotions and feelings, in whichever way they feel fit, can be far more powerful than those who can’t.
Regardless of what you believe the intentions of this meme to be, the point remains that men desperately need a place to process through their emotions and talk about their mental health. While we are so glad men can (and often do) seek help from their significant others, a romantic partner cannot be the sole provider of mental health support. We need to create environments where men can feel safe talking about their mental health in both clinical and casual settings — we cannot continue to let men struggle in silence.