Person 1: Someone forgot their meds this morning! Lol!
Person 2: Someone else forgot that someone listening takes meds and thinks this joke is offensive! Lol!
Don't get me wrong, I think humor is incredibly therapeutic. Even during my darkest times I was cracking jokes. A good, authentic laugh during a bout of depression feels like a deep breath 100 feet under water. It feels amazing. It feels hopeful. It reminds us that existing can be fun, light and lovely.
This being said, there is a difference between laughing together about mental health, and laughing at someone else's expense. There is a difference between jokes meant to bring light to judgment against people with mental illness and jokes that further perpetuate stereotypes and stigma.
Last summer I stayed in an apartment that didn't have an off label on one of the knobs on the stove. Joking about it with a friend who also has OCD made me feel better about it and less alone. (We both have a fear the stove is left on even after we check it and know, rationally, that it's off.) But if someone made a joke about me and the stove who didn't have OCD, it would hurt my feelings. It wouldn't be us bonding through our struggles and laughing together, it would be them laughing at me.
I also make comedic videos about mental health and am writing a musical comedy, We Have Apples, on the topic. You may think it's odd that I'm writing this article, given my work, but these these videos and the musical are meant to highlight the discrimination and stigma against people with mental health conditions and inability to access affordable healthcare. The intention is different than someone laughing at and about people with mental health conditions.
Here are four jokes that are harmful and contribute to the inaccurate stereotypes and dated stigma. Here are four jokes we need to stop making because they aren't funny. I'm guilty of #4 as well, but I'm changing my ways now that I know this is offensive! I hope you'll join me in giving these jokes up:
Someone forgot their meds this morning!
People say this when someone is acting like a total tool, is spacey for one reason or another, or flipping out. First of all, many people with mental illness would love to be able to not take their meds. Taking meds can suck. Figuring out the right medication can be a nightmare. No one wants to have to have a chronic illness they have to treat. But if they didn't take their meds, they wouldn't act like a weirdo or a tool, or a space cadet. If they missed or stopped their meds, it could be serious. Frankly, it could be a life or death situation. No one jokes about someone missing their heart medication or insulin, and for those who have to take medicine for mental illness, it is the same thing. Jokes about medication can cause people to feel shame, guilt, and embarrassment about taking medication and even decide to stop taking it. Be a compassionate person, and lose the phrase.
*Insert any politician or celebrity you don't like* is mentally ill!
I see this a lot on Twitter. People take a politician that they wildly disagree with and say they are mentally ill. While I'm glad people are getting involved in politics, calling a politician or celebrity you think is acting crazy mentally ill is incredibly offensive to those who have a diagnosed mental illness. People in the media acting in negative ways that offend you and make you angry are not suddenly mentally ill. Calling someone mentally ill because you disagree with them just makes you look ignorant and with 1 in 4 people having a mental health condition, you are bound to offend someone you know and care about.
No blueberry muffins?! I'm going to kill myself! (Mimes shooting self with hand)
Don't joke about suicide. You never know who is listening and has lost a dear family member or friend.
Color-coded labels?! You're so OCD!
Mental health conditions aren't words you can just throw around to describe people. Your ex isn't so bipolar because your relationship was up and down. You're friend acting spacey isn't super ADD. Your brother isn't so OCD because he's a fastidious pereson and likes to match his sneakers to his outfit. The politician who's ideas you don't like isn't psychotic. Many people who have mental health conditions are people you would never suspect have them. Your friend who appears to be calm could have anxiety. Your neighbor who is a successful doctor could have bipolar disorder. There are so many people who are thriving with mental health conditions because they have received treatment and worked their butts off to get to where they are. They are not freaks, clowns, or monsters. They are valuable, wonderful human beings who have so much intellect, talent and creativity to contribute to the world. Stop calling people acting in negative ways mentally ill. It's incredibly offensive to people with mental health conditions.
One can be successful and of sound mind and also struggle with a mental illness. Get educated and before you joke, think about who you could be hurting. It's therapeutic to laugh together, it's awesome to raise awareness with comedy, but it's never cool to laugh at the expense of people with mental health conditions.