The research paper, Mental Health Memes: Beneficial or Aversive, explores whether internet memes related to mental health difficulties serve as a beneficial coping mechanism for people living with psychiatric disorders.
The findings are revealed ahead of National Meme Day, on Tuesday 15 November.
While psychiatrists and media outlets have assumed internet memes trivialise mental health difficulties, the Sheffield Hallam study has found empirical evidence that fails to support this notion.
Dr Jennifer Drabble and Dr Umair Akram from Sheffield Hallam’s Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics led the research. They found that social media pages dedicated to mental health memes appear to facilitate the expression of difficult emotions in a novel and creative way, providing social and emotional bonds with others, which may be perceived as socially supportive.
The research explains that the experience of psychiatric difficulties for many can be difficult to verbalise and people may feel uncomfortable disclosing the nature of their mental health difficulties, yet also feel the need to be understood and related to.
Dr Umair Akram, lecturer in sleep and mental health at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Following the culmination of our work in the area, and the recent increased in studies related to internet memes, we wanted to explore the psychological impact that mental heal related memes may have for individuals experiencing psychiatric symptoms. Often, memes of this nature are disparaged, often without any substantial evidence.
“Research in this area is relatively new. As such, we felt that it was important to set a research agenda, providing tips for other researchers who may be interested in the topic.”
A meme is an image and short caption, and internet memes visually depict an element of a culture or behavioural system in a humorous way that contextually relates to a particular demographic. Typically, memes are rapidly shared, with many variations of the original.