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To the Page That Posted This Offensive Mental Illness Meme, Thank You

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I have a mental health condition, which is at times debilitating. This morning I canceled plans to meet a friend for coffee because I couldn’t bear to get out of bed. I’ve come to a place of acceptance with this frequent situation. Some days my illness wins.

So instead of getting up and taking care of the mountain of work I had to do, I sent a quick email to my therapist and got comfy. I knew I would be in for a rough day. After about 30 minutes, the negative thoughts hit. I’m a failure. I don’t have time to be this way. I should be able to get out of this bed. I tossed and turned. I hit play on my “Good Day” playlist and tried to keep calm. But of course the thoughts just kept coming. After about an hour in tears, all I wanted to do was get out of this bed.

This is a pretty typical morning for me, a struggle I rarely talk about. But each day that I get out of bed and leave the house by a decent hour is a win for me. Today I was feeling like a loser.

That was until I opened Facebook. I follow a lot of psychology and mental health pages. On some days when I can’t get out of bed I can at least find solidarity on social media. And on other days, all I find is stigma. Today was the latter.

Instead of a list of self-care tips, I found this image.

meme of wires representing different mental illnesses

While many people would laugh at an image like this, I nearly cried I was so angry. Here I am, stuck in bed, fighting my illness with every ounce of strength I can muster and someone thought it would be funny to diminish and dismiss the reality of mental illness, to associate the people already struggling with negative stigmas with terms like “mass murderer.” Today I was not having it. So in a rare moment of confidence, I messaged the page, letting them know how damaging this meme was and asking them to remove it:

Hey [page name], I find this photo distasteful. Would you please take it down?

This image only contributes to the mental health stigma and encourages other posts that diminish the struggle of having a mental illness. It’s particularly offensive to anyone with these conditions. Just as OCD isn’t about being a neat freak, these depictions have nothing to do with the very real and very difficult conditions it depicts. Not to mention, it adds to the stigma which claims that people with mental health conditions are dangerous or “mass murderers.” I understand that your aim is to post jokes about psychology, but this is very different. It is not funny. Living with mental illness is not a joke and as a platform that aims to share the lighter side of psychology, you should not contribute to such notions. Especially when so many related and affiliated pages are working to end the stigma.

And then I waited. In the meantime my comment on the image that “this was offensive” received several likes. And I started to regain some strength. I was right. Other people agreed with me. I felt empowered, and suddenly I realized that even from this bed I would not stand for this kind of imagery. I would have that photo removed.

My phone lit up. It was the page’s admin. I was honestly surprised to get a response so quickly. Until I read the message. “But we’re a parody page, “ it said. “And people know that’s not the intention of the post.” Now I was livid. That was it. Two sentences and one big excuse? People don’t know that. That’s how stigmas are constantly reinforced in our society. And it’s not a parody if it reinforces the idea it’s meant to satirize. More strength bubbled up in me. Even from this bed, I can be a mental health warrior. I wrote back:

If you read through the comments section, you will see that’s not the case. A parody should be an obvious mockery that doesn’t reinforce the idea it aims to parody, but highlights the absurd nature of it. This reinforces negative stereotypes and thus fails to be parody and thus fails to be funny. It’s an example of the exact kind of media portrayals we in the mental health community work so hard to refute. In general I agree that your parodies are funny and successful, but this one is out right offensive. For example, The Mighty recently did an entire post on memes just like this one and the negative impact they have. The majority of people who see this will not have a familiarity with this area enough to see it as a parody but will instead see mental health as a parody. It’s your choice to post what you please. I only ask that you be more mindful in choosing your content.

I informed the admin about the reality of mental health stigmas and asked that the page be more mindful in choosing their content. I included a screenshot from some of the other comments that found the meme offensive. And I left it that.

I debated giving my therapist a call. I needed to get out of this bed. A few minutes later, my phone lit up again. Another message. I dreaded opening it. I didn’t have enough strength left for another respectful and informative comment on mental health stigmas. I was too busy battling my own internalized stigmas.

“Sorry for the other admin’s behavior and post. We recognize that the ‘joke’ was in extremely poor taste and has been removed. Thanks for the heads up.”

Wait, I did it? They removed the image. Something I said had an impact? I was genuinely surprised. No one had ever apologized to me for spreading a stigma. And just like that all my negative thoughts were hushed. I don’t have to be perfect to matter. I can make a difference even when I am struggling. It is OK to struggle; it’s where I get my strength. And I stood up. I got out of my bed and walked to the kitchen. A simple activity that could have taken me all day, if at all, to do. I felt empowered; maybe today I didn’t beat my illness and I didn’t end all mental health stigmas, but I did win.

I’m not sure what inspired me to choose this post on this day. Social media is filled with these kinds of images and stigmas, many worse than this one. But thank you to that page for sharing it. When I stood up to you, I stood up for myself, and then I actually stood up.

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Originally published: March 14, 2017
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