How Memes Taught Millennials to Talk About Mental Health

Between the DMs and tags, starter packs and TFWs, memes have emerged as a unique language to support our generation's growing mental health dialogue.

by i-D Staff
21 July 2017, 4:18am

This article is part of That Feeling When—a partnership between VICE Australia and youth mental health initiative headspace.

Young people, or more aptly almost the entire world, is connected through some form of technology and/or social media. When it comes to our mental health and wellbeing, the online world can be both daunting, but also empowering. You can find a myriad of stories from people with lived experience and connect through groups, forums and chats. There are also fun ways to explore the topic of mental health and approach it in a 'non-clinical' way - like finding a meme that captures your feelings and worries into a funny image you could easily share with your network. However, if you are experiencing any mental health issues, or feeling worried and anxious about what's going, on help is available. You can reach out to your GP or read through information and resources on the headspace website, where you can also locate your nearest centre.

Vikki Ryall, Head of Clinical Practice at headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation.

For most people, it's hard to speak frankly about the residue mental illness leaves on our lives. Few of us could walk into a room and begin chatting about how anxiety and depression can tint the most mundane social interactions. But throw in a picture of a tiny cat, a Bob's Burger screenshot or Salt Bae himself and you might find feelings flow more freely.

In recent years memes have come to occupy a startlingly large space in public discourse. Pepe found himself tied up with the alt-right movement, Arthur's fist became a symbol of paralysing rage and a cartoon dog engulfed in flames ended up representing our passivity in the face of the Trump shit-storm. But before they made news, they had already begun to play a strangely cathartic role in our own lives.

In a recent Nielsen poll, 24 percent of millennials surveyed reported that they believed their generation's use of technology made them unique among demographics. For comparison, Boomers nominated "work ethic" as their defining characteristic. Similarly 75 percent of Gen Y and Z said technology makes their lives easier, and 54 percent said it make them feel closer to friends and family. At this point, you don't need to be told the internet brings people together — only your grandpa thinks otherwise. But it's worth asking if amid the endlessly churning dialogue about 21st century emotional connectivity, we've overlooked the role the simple meme plays in fostering intimacy. Between the DMs and tags, starter packs and TFWs, they've emerged as a unique language to support our generation's growing mental health dialogue.

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