Some time ago I posted a meme that has been going around in various places. It goes like this:

Being popular on Facebook is like eating at the cool table in the cafeteria at a mental hospital.

I posted it because I identified with the humor. Two of my goals in life have been to be popular on Facebook and sit at the cool table when I’m in the mental hospital. One of the things that keeps me relatively sane is my ability to laugh at myself and I find particular pleasure in making people laugh with me. Certainly, I have a serious mental illness; that’s a part of who I am. Not taking myself too seriously diminishes the power of my disordered ego. Thus, more often than not, the things I find funny are self-deprecating jabs.

But self-deprecating humor may be misleading when used in non-intimate settings such as social media.

In response to my post, Laura Pogliano wrote:

This meme is ignorant, among many other adjectives l would use. Many use it to laugh at the mentally ill, which is exactly what this picture invites.

Laura is one of my most trusted mental health advocates. When she says something, I take it seriously. Still, I find this meme funny. I see it laughing with, not at me. Rather than lash out in some outrageous debate, I see this as an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue. How can those of us impacted by mental illness find humor in our situation and share this with others? Or is this even possible.

I began this dialogue on my Facebook page. I asked readers to respond to two questions: How do you react to the meme? And, are there better ways to engage in mental health humor that are less offensive? I received some thoughtful replies:

Claire ElizabethLaughing in the first step in having good mental health. I have sat at the cool kids table before.

Katie Dale – Making light and making fun of mental illness is so hard to do, Tony. I’ve tried parodies in song form; I’ve tried jokes in blog posts…it seems that if it’s not pc or makes sense initially, it has the potential to hurt or harm. I get that we who have recovered can find humor in these things, but I agree with Laura, it is making fun of those who don’t have insight or may take offense at it.

Billi Jo Carver – It is a fact that the mentally I’ll, more often than not, try to sit at the cool table while in the mental hospital. We try and try to make others think we have our stuff together. It’s funny.

Janet Coburn – I can see both sides. It’s primarily a slam at Facebook, but it uses the language of mental illness. I find much mental health humor funny or at least amusing, but this doesn’t seem to be that.

I think it is essential that we take psychiatric brain illnesses seriously and, at the same time, that we not take ourselves too seriously. I happen to have a serious brain illness (rapidly cycling bipolar disorder with psychotic features) and it does irritate me when someone who does not makes light of the experience.

I’m so bipolar today.

This weather is schizophrenic.

Kathy is always cleaning her house. She’s so OCD.

At the same time, I reserve the right to use my experience as someone who has a serious brain illness to lighten the heavy load with some levity. I can tell stories like when I was on the psych unit and one of the patients playing Disney tunes on the piano while the others of us line-danced. Or when I went to a public restroom and heard a voice from somewhere. I turned to the fellow in the urinal next to mine and asked if he heard it too. He said, “Yes, it’s coming from your pocket.” It was a Revealing Voices podcast playing on my Smartphone.

I would like to hear from more of you.

Can we laugh with rather than at those with mental illness? If so, how?

What humor do you find helpful? What do you find hurtful?