Meme Culture and Mental Health

Aiden Faucher and Juliet Chang

Sad boi hours only. The prevalence of a “depression” culture in our generation is growing. From sad singers like Billie Eilish to emo rappers like Lil Uzi Vert to depression memes plastering our phone screens, it’s hard to escape the “sad aesthetic”. While we have become accepting of people with mental illness, we have also become desensitized to mental illness. So where does funny and enjoyable consumption cross the line into insensitive and harmful media?

Though a burning car seems extreme, this meme shows that people sometimes feel their lives spiraling out of control but they use humor to help cope and laugh off the true problems they are facing.

According to, a website provided for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Mental Health, mental health is defined as the emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health affects our feelings, thought processes, and actions. It greatly influences our social behavior. No matter our age, mental health is an important part of life. Mental health tackles common illnesses such as depression and anxiety, to more serious illnesses like schizophrenia. Among our lifetimes, one in five will experience some form of depression by adulthood.

Mental wellness, on the other hand, is something different. According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” As opposed to being a mental illness, mental wellness is the ability to realize one’s own mental state and deal with stress. Mental wellness can be affected by factors such as school or work-related stress, relationships, and coping skills. It isn’t the same as having anxiety but rather recognizing that you feel nervous when you give a presentation in front of the class.

Hand in hand, mental health, and wellness go together to try and tackle issues ranging from how to cope with day to day stress and how to cope with having a mental illness. At South, students deal with both mental health issues and mental wellness. One student, who will be kept anonymous, shares their mental health experiences, “I am currently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, two illnesses that are able to be helped, but to the best of my knowledge, not completely cured. A common stigma surrounding the two is being “weak-willed” and “weird”, but despite all of this, simply ignoring it and striving to be the best I can has helped.” Stories like theirs are not the same, but similar. With students sharing their experiences with many mental health issues and feeling comfortable enough to do so.

Other students, who may not perhaps have a mental health issue, still struggle with their mental wellness. Many stressors for students include their heavy homework load, peers labeling them, family, having to maintain relationships, and peer pressure. When asked how they coped with these stressors, South students shared that they really like to do is listen to music, talk to someone, and cry. All of which, are good coping mechanisms. Music is a powerful stress management tool, relaxing our bodies, distracting us, and keeping us on task, talking to someone lets you share your burdens and lets you know that you aren’t alone, and crying is a good catharsis, letting you release your emotions in a healthy way.

On the topic of depression and mental health, a largely used coping mechanism is memes, or similar commonly shared pictures across the internet. A meme is an element of culture passed from one individual to another, and to some people, they can be useful tools to help feel better or just get a little happiness in their day. Freshman Juan Arenas said that self deprecating memes help deal with problems because you can be in happier mood when you see some dumb stuff or funny and you keep looking for more memes that make you happy and laugh” while others, such as senior Vinly Lee comments “very few memes are relatable but I can appreciate their effort/worth.” Other students are on the fence about the topic, such as senior Caspian Bink, says “[It] Depends. It’s either a hit or a miss, but if they are hit I know someone out there feels the same way.”

The question of if these are actually good coping mechanisms also had rather mixed results. Junior Shara Becker says, “Probably not, because you should get actual help instead of just laughing about your problems like me.” Although joking about our issues can be fun, there is a point at which we must step back and deal with them. Coping through humor may be positive, but it can easily become toxic when it prevents an individual from actually growing and seeking help.

Some memes, such as this one sent in by Junior Shara Becker, show that many people deal with their issues through jokes. It also conveys the commonality that people aren’t open about their mental wellness to others, even those they are close to.

After interviewing two members of our guidance department, Mrs. Vorpahl the school social worker and Mr. Schneider one of the four guidance counselors, they added some adult and professional opinions on the matter. When asked about her opinions on “depression memes”, Mrs. Vorpahl told us that, “It’s what the person brings to the table… some may not ever find these funny…This type of humor requires a certain level of maturity, comfort, and understanding of who you are and who you’re with. I worry about those who aren’t as mature… 13-year-olds wouldn’t always understand [this humor].” These images can be funny and helpful for someone who is able to see their struggle and their problems as something outside of them. Something that they can look at from the outside, point out, and laugh at. Humor can be a powerful coping mechanism for individuals.

On the other hand, the prevalence of depression memes can be harmful to individuals. Those who are not yet ready to joke about their problems can find depression memes insensitive and demeaning. Regarding this, Mr. Schneider chips in that “A lot of it is consumerism and access to these images.” These can be powerful tools in helping recovery but when someone is not yet ready to see them, they can harm. These memes are products that we have to monitor our consumption of. Like when you watch what you eat to maintain a healthy diet, you have to watch what you see to maintain good mental health and wellness.

So if memes aren’t for you, there are many other ways to manage your mental health. The first and most important step is to talk to someone. South High has many resources available if you need someone to talk to. A trusted teacher in the building, if you have one, is an easy start. The counseling center is another place to turn to, an area where you can talk to a trusted adult who will keep everything you say a secret. While they are not trained to treat any mental illnesses, they are willing to sit down, have good conversations, and give you advice. Like in the name of the room, they are there to counsel and their doors are always open. There is also the school social worker, Mrs. Vorpahl, who you can talk to. While she is not always in the building, if you are truly struggling, do not be afraid to reach out to her. We also have a school psychologist, Ms. Schoenenberger-Gross.

South also has a program called the PATH (Providing Access to Healing) program for students in need. It was created this past year in partnership with United Way of Sheboygan County. The program provides licensed mental health therapy inside the school for those who would not be able to receive treatment outside of school due to factors such as no insurance, financial barriers, and lack of transportation. Currently, this program is full with a waitlist as South students are making the most of it.

Outside of South, there are places in the community you can turn to. In the community, local therapists and counselors are people you can talk about your mental health and wellness problems with. There are a number of national helplines to call, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is a 24-hour hotline that allows anonymous calls from anyone considering suicide or considering death. Another hotline you could call is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), who have a helpline and a web-based service locator to help you find resources to discuss your mental health and any issues that may cause or have been caused by your mental health issues.

While many students at South deal with mental health issues every day, they have, typically, good coping mechanisms set in place to help them temporarily alleviate these issues. Memes may be a good coping mechanism for many students, but they are not the be all end all mechanism for everybody. There are many ways to help yourself, inside and outside of school. Please remember, you are not alone, and you can help break the negative stigma behind mental health.  


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If mental health difficulties are leading you to consider suicide or think about death often, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s national network of local crisis centers. This 24-hour hotline is available to anyone in crisis and provides free and confidential emotional support and crisis intervention.

Crisis Text Line: Text “home” to 741741
This unique hotline is available via text message to anyone experiencing mental health difficulties or an emotional crisis. Highly trained counselors offer support and guidance to calm you down and make sure you are safe.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
If you’re ready to seek professional treatment for your mental health condition, SAMHSA’s helpline and web-based behavioral health treatment services locator can help you find information about treatment providers, therapists counselors, support groups, and community resources in your area.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
The NAMI Helpline is available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST to answer your general questions about mental health issues and treatment options. You can get information on mental health services in your area and learn how to help a loved one find treatment.