I was having a chat to a friend the other day. We were talking about our respective mental illnesses, and mental illness in general. They were telling me about the medications they required to manage their particular illness, and a conversation they had with a woman on the end of the phone; a woman in the call centre/office of an insurance company.
My friend was required to disclose the medications they were on, and what they were taking these medications for.
The response, allegedly – although not allegedly, because it did actually happen – to “for my OCD” was “What?”
Again, “For my OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”
“Hahaha,” was the reply.
The discussion continued and my friend was questioned about the reality of this illness. The woman on the other end of the phone was of the genuine belief that OCD wasn’t a “real thing”.
After my initial “WTF?! Seriously?” I got it.
I got why she, and countless others really don’t think it’s real. I understand why so many people are ignorant and/or confused about this, and other, mental illnesses.
I appreciate why the stigma around mental illness persists, and why it is difficult for many to accept that it exists. Or, indeed, how to deal with someone who has a mental illness or displaying signs of a mental illness or, indeed, specifically stating they have one and need some help.
There are many, many factors that contribute to the ignorance and lack of understanding, so it’s not really fair to single one out. But there is one that I think is contributing significantly to these issues, and I’d even go so far as to say increasing the ignorance of others.
Possibly because they’re getting in front of lots more people, thank you very much social media. They are the Mental Illness Meme … and they are in significant abundance.
Personally, I quite like a Mental Illness Meme; some of them are hilarious … or I find them so, due to their level of inappropriateness. The more inappropriate the louder and longer I will laugh. This may be deemed a mental illness in and of itself, but they are often the best laughs I get, so I’ll take them.
I also find them to be comforting. They provide, for so many of us, a relatability, a warmth, a reminder that we’re not alone with this illness of the mental faculties.
(And a very inappropriate belly laugh.)
Others find them disrespectful and offensive, and feel that mental illness is being made fun of. And that’s okay. Nothing will ever be for everyone.
Whilst I don’t mind them at all, I do worry that they are contributing the lack of understanding and real knowledge about real illnesses. Often they’re used by drama queens seeking attention, or someone having a laugh at themselves because they may be a little bit anal, but not really OCD.
Some are having bad days, and genuinely think they’re depressed, and others are just trying to show their understanding of any given illness and that they’re happy to support.
The other argument, of course, is that these memes are increasing awareness of all of these illnesses, how they operate, and how they affect people, even if they are short, sharp, and very simplistic.
What do you think? Do they help raise awareness of mental illness, or broaden the ignorance around it?
Or maybe a bit of both?