Speaking Up to Address the Stigma: Challenging The FaceBook Mental Health “Game”

I am a 40-something guy. Included in my friends on Facebook are folks that I have not seen since my high school years. Maybe you have some friends like that too. I like their life milestones and updates on their children. I like hearing stories about their own parents – many of whom I have not seen in over two decades. And I also like that they are a decent barometer of how the general public thinks about issues, given my day to day is entrenched in issues like homelessness, addiction, mental health, trauma, and family breakdown.

Recently, a FaceBook “game” was introduced by one of these high school pals. I have no doubt this is the sort of thing that may have made its rounds in your friend circles on FaceBook too. It goes like this:

You’re in a mental hospital. Use the first 7 people on your tag list in order..no cheating! 

Your roommate: 

Person licking windows: 
Person helping your escape: 
The doctor: 
Person running around naked: 
Person yelling nonsense: 
Person you went crazy with: 

A clean copy for you to fill out is in the comments..let’s see if yours is as true and funny as mine!

And it made my heart sink and angered me at the same time. I don’t hide the fact that I live with mental illness. Goodness knows I have found things to laugh at in my own recovery journey. But that is ME having a laugh at MY mental health. I suspect there are also peer groups that could appropriately share their experiences and chuckles with each other. BUT, it doesn’t reinforce stereotypes nor find delight in the compromised wellness of others. I mean really…person licking windows? Running around naked? The person you went crazy with? That escape is necessary rather than achieving important assistance? (If only people knew how difficult it was in most cities for someone to get admitted for care when their mental health is unwell.)

No doubt some folks are naive when it comes to mental health. Very few folks ever set foot in a mental health hospital or the psychiatric wing of a hospital. Very few very visit a mental health clubhouse or peer support group. Very few ever visit supportive housing for people that live with serious and persistent mental illness. Very few have ever spent significant time doing street outreach or being in a shelter where the shortcomings of mental health systems are so blatant.

Does that condone efforts to make fun of mental illness? No.

So, I pointed out that maybe finding jokes in this type of FaceBook game was insensitive and poor taste. What I encountered wasn’t a response that was considerate of this point of view, but rather, a pushback that I was too easily offended.

And I think that is a problem. It speaks to the ongoing efforts needed to get mental health out of the shadows and into the light, and to address stigma head on. Can you imagine the outrage if there was a FaceBook game that went something like “You’re in the barracks of the plantation” or “You’re on the train to Auschwitz” or “You’re in the Residential School”. Of course that would be completely unacceptable.

It is also unacceptable to make it more difficult for anyone already struggling to come to grips with their mental health or share their mental health with others if there is entertainment that takes delight in reinforcing stereotypes, or mocking people for behaviours that may stem from mental illness.

But this cannot just be people like me that live with mental illness that speak up and say that finding humour in games like this is offensive. It requires everyone to have a sensible discussion to point out that mocking people for their mental illness is not different that mocking people if they have cancer or kidney disease or a heart condition. Sickness is not comedy.

Iain De Jong

About Iain De Jong

4 Responses to “Speaking Up to Address the Stigma: Challenging The FaceBook Mental Health “Game””

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  1. Mary says:

    I agree 100%..I have found also that people seem to gravitate toward negative and hurtful posts more often than not and some people just egg it on, which to me is truly sad. I like to keep it light and I have found myself not getting on FB as much because of the negativity. Who needs all the negativity and anxiety that cam arise, not to mention someones feelings being truly hurt. Life is too precious and short, live happy and enjoy..have a great day.

  2. Mary MacDonald says:

    Bravo!

  3. Amanda says:

    I haven’t come across this on FB yet (and hopefully I won’t!). I can’t believe people think this is in the least bit acceptable and that you were told you were too easily offended for bringing out the (obvious?) notion that this was insensitive and poor taste.

  4. LadySarah says:

    Iain, 03/26/15- I have just been “tagged” with this on FBk. While I was reading my friends comment section, one of their friends, posted the link to this article. I am glad they did.
    Thank you for your point of view, I appreciate your ability to stand straight and speak up, when some of us are unable or lack the ability to do so.
    IF, I receive this “game” again, your link will be my response. Again, thank you, LSS