The Gen Z Approach to Mental Health

Laurynn Davey, Contributing Writer

When scrolling through your social media accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, you are most likely to find at least one dark humor joke or meme floating around. Many of these jokes will even find their way onto the ‘popular trends’ lists. In the most recent generation, known as Generation Z (Gen Z), anything ranging from a minor inconvenience to a first world problem, mental health issues, and even World War III, are often turned into a joke as a way to cope with potential threats.

“How else are we supposed to cope with the debt crisis and war when we’re all basically screwed?” questioned Emily Lease, a sophomore at McKendree and advocate for mental health.

It appears that dark humor is used by Gen Zers to escape emotional damage; however, this generational culture has still managed to create an underlying message that finds hope in dark situations.


The beginnings of the popularization of dark humor started with social media, one of the most prevalent factors of the Gen Z culture. “Social media helps everything to be acknowledged,” said Emily. “I don’t think [dark humor] would be acceptable without it.”

Some Gen Zers also see the use of dark humor as not only a coping mechanism, but as an act of defiance. “I make inappropriate jokes all the time just to see that uncomfortable look in my family,” explained Emily. “I think it’s amusing because they don’t talk about mental health.” Emily also mentioned how memes help everyone to globally connect. Memes have changed the way teens communicate, almost like it’s a new language, because they can bond over their relation to a meme and ultimately create lasting friendships with people from all over the world.

As a result of the normalization of dark humor and inappropriate memes, they are often used in today’s pop culture to tackle real issues. An example would be television shows like NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. One of the reasons shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine are successful with their dark humor addition is because people in both Generation Z and the Millennial generation want to hear jokes about life that are relatable to real world issues they’ve experienced. “It shows people that it’s okay to talk about these things,” said Emily. “Anything is okay to talk about as long as you educate yourself.” The show uses this type of humor to confront serious matters, much like Generation Z.


Through these jokes and creative memes, Gen Zers have become more open to talking about mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Before the rise of social media, talking about anything that involved mental illnesses and death was once considered to be taboo. Makaela Deguire, a sophomore at McKendree, expressed that the older generations didn’t like to talk about mental illnesses.

“We’re just now starting to develop a culture that’s more open about it and how to deal with it. That’s mostly where the dark humor comes from,” she said. By acknowledging the bad in humorous ways, Gen Zers can deal with the results without giving up on the fight for change.


Despite the laughs, however, a joke can go too far and lead to serious consequences. “The line gets crossed when it shouldn’t,” said Emily. While depression and suicide jokes have, in a way, become therapeutic for a lot of Gen Zers, there is still a fine line between defaming suicidal thoughts and normalizing them. “One of the negatives of dark humor is making light of mental illness at some points. A lot of people rely on stereotypes to take [suicide jokes] seriously,” said Mekaela. It is the hope that change will be implemented in society that inspires Generation Z to find ways to express their struggles and normalize an issue that was once ignored. “It’s the responsibility of society as a whole to make access to mental health resources more open, so people don’t have to feel that way,” said Mekaela. The right kinds of messages can let people know that they’re not alone and at the same time act as a call for help.  “Check in on people who make jokes like that, just to make sure they are okay,” said Emily. “Sometimes the joke goes too far.”


Other generations may question the absurdity of Gen Z humor; however, it has shown the creative minds of an optimistic generation who seeks change and world progress. By joking about serious issues, such as depression, it has made it more acceptable in society to have open discussions about mental health and ways to help. “It’s a way of unifying people, like… Oh! Now we’re together!” said Elia Burbidge, a junior at McKendree. Despite having our differences, everyone battles some form of stress or anxiety. Making jokes about issues that are sometimes happening outside of our control acts as a coping mechanism, so these feelings don’t stay bottled up inside. “It’s another way for people to feel a part of a community,” said Emily. “It’s healthy to talk about your mental health. It’s healthy to see a therapist. You’re trying to better yourself.” The underlying message in the Gen Z approach to mental health is that it’s okay not to be okay, it’s okay to cope with both internal and external struggles through humor, and more importantly, it’s okay to ask for help.



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