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Why This Mental Health Facebook 'Game’ Is So Deplorable

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Last week I was sitting in bed, mindlessly surfing social media to take my mind off the horrible, depressing day I’d had. While checking my notifications, I noticed I’d been tagged in a popular fill-in-the-blank, chain letter-type post that’s recently been making the rounds on Facebook.

As I nervously clicked onto the page of the original poster, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I didn’t know her all that well; she had come up in my suggested contacts a while ago as someone with whom I shared common interests or friends. But in no way had we had any real personal contact before, and I considered her as more of an acquaintance.

The title of the game she posted and tagged me in is called “I’m in a mental hospital.” Next, you select the names of your friends who best fit the following roles:

  • Roommate.
  • Who licks the glass.
  • Psychiatrist.
  • Asleep in the corner.
  • Shouts at everyone.
  • Padded room occupant.
  • Kicks the nurse.
  • Believes they are a unicorn.
  • Sneaks in the alcohol.

How disgusting and deplorable is that? I don’t deserve to be demeaned so blatantly. No one does.

Luckily, my privacy settings include the option to approve a post whenever I’m tagged in it. This means I have the option of choosing whether I want it to appear on my timeline for all my friends to see. Obviously I rejected it and unfriended her, but this was definitely not what I needed to deal with at the end of an already difficult day.

Just seeing my name beside the word roommate, which is at the top of the list and very hard to miss, made my heart sink. It didn’t make me laugh, and I couldn’t take it lightly or easily brush it off because it totally mortified me. It also made me feel “Other” and reduced my whole identity, which includes mother, wife and writer, to simply being a stereotypical “mental patient.”

It’s as if being “crazy” has some sort of disturbing entertainment value in our society.

As a woman who lives with three mental illnesses, I know well the many ups and downs that can occur as part of daily life. It’s not easy waking up with bipolar 2 disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) — a severe, darker form of PMS. Every day is a struggle. Sometimes just making it out of bed is a success.

My disorders are serious, lifelong diagnoses. I take medications to increase my serotonin and stabilize my moods. I regularly see a therapist and a psychiatrist. I do my best to carve out time for myself to keep my head above water. Some days are better than others, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I hide under the covers.

The thing that really infuriates me about this tone-deaf joke is that a lot of people have probably been tagged who either don’t have mental illness and don’t quite get why it’s so inappropriate, or they do struggle with their mental health but are not open about it.

Most of these offensive “games” on social media appear to be stereotyped foolishness, created with little thought and no consideration. Being alarmed and angry about being included it is a valid response. I am not acting over the top. I’m also not a fragile “snowflake” and standing for myself doesn’t mean I can’t take a joke. When something on Facebook is insensitive and involves me directly, there’s no way I can remain silent and “let it slide.”

When I shared my outrage with my friends on Facebook, many of them admitted to seeing the joke on other people’s pages, too. One dear friend told me to pay no mind to it and rise above it.

I know I am better and stronger than this post, but the only way I could let it rest was to report it to Facebook. I too have seen it making the rounds, and if I can in any way stop it or make my voice heard, I will do it.

We may have come a long way when it comes to talking openly about mental health and bringing it out in the open, but it’s this type of ubiquitous, “hilarious” post that increases stigma and makes people who are genuinely suffering stay quiet and stifle their story.

People with mental illness live with their condition every day, but this type of judgment discourages them from reaching out. The perceived shame of needing professional help and checking yourself into a hospital is scary and intimidating enough already, without seeing demeaning posts and comments pop up in your circle of friends.

Just because mental illness is invisible, it doesn’t mean the people who struggle with it deserved to be mocked. Somehow mental illness is associated with exaggeration and drama, and it’s not right.

Don’t people realize how dangerous it is to minimize mental illness and treat it as a joke?

When I contacted the original poster to address my concerns and how hurt I was, she simply told me to “lighten up,” and that “so many people get offended these days.” She said she lives with her own mental illnesses and listed them out, which boggled my mind. Why post this crap and distribute it when she is a part of the community herself?

I understand all the outrage and privacy concerns surrounding Facebook this past couple of years, but it is largely the social media friends I’ve never met in person who have become my biggest support network. They just get it. They are my cheerleaders. They read my posts and simply say, “I hear you.” They also remind me of all the important work I am doing as a mental health advocate by putting myself out there to tell my story in a vulnerable yet brave way.

One of my favorite memes says that: “mental illness is not Fight Club. We can talk about it.”

And it’s true: We have to do a better job of sharing our struggles and telling our stories, and not just one day of the year, either. Mental illness shouldn’t be an embarrassing secret or a cruel joke to be bandied about on Facebook. Talking about it on social media is not attention-seeking; it’s vital and important work.

Every time I open up about my mental health online, I help break the stigma. I have found my calling in life, and I’m not giving up. So many people who are suffering in silence contact me and give me positive feedback because they are going through the same thing but don’t feel they have a voice. So I’ll continue to put myself out there, and I’ll continue to speak up.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Originally published: February 17, 2020
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