There’s a distinctly dystopian aspect to 2022’s choices for “word of the year” by prominent dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster’s “gaslighting,” “permacrisis” of Collins English Dictionary and, finally, Oxford English Dictionary, allowing public votes, opted for “goblin mode”.
The Memefication of Mental Illness
I was recently interviewed by journalist Laura Pitcher at ID Magazine, writing about his theory that 2022 actually seemed to be “the year of rot.” In many memes, tweets, and Instagram reels, individuals illustrate their exhaustion and lack of momentum with descriptive phrases such as “rotting in bed.” They also lamented their “rotten brains,” suggesting problems caused by compulsive use of technology interfering with their ability to maintain focus and maintain productivity, not to mention nurture deep and meaningful relationships.
As the number of people struggling with anxious thoughts, depressed mood and insomnia increases, it makes sense that there is a parallel increase in voices sharing the difficult experience of modern life. My interpretation of these “rotten” memes is that they are an attempt to express how painful and isolating these symptoms can be, reducing our experiences of pleasure, meaning and connection. Through this expression, they can then find solidarity and validation in the “likes” and comments of others.
Indeed, artists and creators have historically shared their struggles in various mediums and, through their expressions, have given voice to a much wider community, including those who may not feel safe sharing this information. personal.
Should we all just quit social media?
Although much has been said about internet trolls and the perpetuation of hate speech, it is oversimplifying to suggest that everything social media content is bad. In fact, I see humor as an important weapon against apathy and despair, and I am encouraged when my patients are able to find something funny even during some of their most painful experiences.
If online memes or humor are able to address the challenges of the human condition in an inclusive way, bring together rather than isolating individuals, they can be a powerful force for relief, increased awareness and eventual change.
Maybe the answer is in moderation
Because our brains are wired to seek out pleasure, that next dopamine hit, social media can become problematic behavior as well. The “brain rot” of social media fatigue speaks to the fleeting and unsatisfying nature of every image or video viewed while scrolling. I compare it to sweets and other junk food. If you’re really hungry, it’s better to look for nutrient-dense foods, because junk food will only satisfy you momentarily. The same goes for excessive social media consumption.
Importantly, it also takes time to step away from activities more likely to create healthy relationships, engagement, and meaning, three key areas that improve our sense of well-being.
Certainly, people are experiencing and sharing unprecedented levels of psychological distress, whether through memes, tweets, or other creative content. The next step is complex, but I strongly believe in efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness, limit misinformation about psychiatric illnesses, and increase access to affordable, high-quality treatment.
How can clinicians help with solutions?
Clinicians trained in this field need to share our voices and find ways to reach a much wider audience. For me, this has involved interviewing notable writers, therapists, and other clinicians on my podcast, as well as contributing factual writing to various platforms and connecting with engaged journalists.
Rather than bemoaning the current state of mental health information in the media, we all have the opportunity to contribute in our unique ways. My peers in psychiatry, psychology, social work, and marriage and family therapy, we can become leaders in this powerful shift to promoting factual, accurate, and practical information through social media. Let’s create a better future together.
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