GIFs and Memes Are Not A Good Way To Talk About Depression

The use of memes and GIFs to describe such dark and complex things as depression represent a mockery of the illness.


This morning, Mashable posted a listicle of sorts, listing a set of "sad GIFs" to use to "express the depth of your despair."  The concept of "reaction GIFs" is an evolution of the emoticon of sorts, in which users, usually via tumblr or Twitter, show their emotional reactions through an animated GIF file of some video clip.  The point is to further exemplify or at least clarify one's feelings, given the static nature of emoticons.  This would be fine, if the reactions were at least taken with at least some sincerity and earnestness.  However, Mashable's Molly Horan begins pushing the snark a little too far in her opening paragraph:

Writing "I am sad" doesn't really paint an accurate picture of the pain you're feeling.  Your friend wouldn't know exactly how to help you.  Do you need food, words of encouragement or to be left alone in a corner to cry?

The rambunctiousness of the listicle continues, with each GIF representing seemingly awful things to feel sad about, but in retrospect are very silly things that the average person would laugh about if outside of what is happening.  None of these GIFs represent anything sad, even though some of the imagery being used is genuinely sad and heartbreaking imagery, or at least imagery meant to invoke those feelings.  This does not look like crying over spilled milk, but wrenching in despair over an empty cart of ice cream (which, conveniently, is given a GIF at number 6 on the list).

When writing such articles as this listicle, people make a mockery of sadness, and in so doing make a mockery of depression, which has long been mistakenly identified as an excess of sadness.  No doubt someone, perhaps a techie who is a Mashable junkie, will send this to some friend of theirs who may have depression, in the hopes of "cheering them up" or, worse, trying to understand their situation.

This kind of thinking is exactly the wrong way to approach sadness, and an unthinkable way to approach depression.  Depression in and of itself is a far more complex illness than most people cannot begin to comprehend, and attempting to bring it into a simple, singular definition is not only an inconceivable undertaking, but can also be a travesty to those who suffer under it.  While it may seem the easier way out, that is quite similar to saying that things can be fixed by willing yourself to be happy.

Allie Brosh, creator of the blog Hyperbole and a Half, used comics to describe her depression recently, and the comics went viral.  This definitely represents a step in the right direction in bringing the discussion of depression into more realistic, understanding terms, but even Brosh admitted that her experience was her own, and is not representative of all depression sufferers.  And there have been many sufferers of varying degrees, from the dearly-missed Aaron Schwartz to the greatest President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  Who is to say all these people were suffering the same way, for the same reasons?

To mock such a dark aspect of humanity and suppress it represents at best a willful ignorance towards the suffering of others, at worst a complete and utter detachment to reality.  Given that Ms. Horan writes for Mashable, an Internet company representative of the start-up business culture, the signs more or less indicate the latter.

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