No Joking Matter

My best friend and I met in a psychiatric ward.  We have been friends for nearly 7 years.  We joke all of the time about being ‘crazy’, ‘insane’ or ‘mental’.  However if someone I had never met or I didn’t know well said the same thing, I would take great offense.  I feel there is privilege around being able to joke about Mental Illness, a privilege that only those who know the suffering around it can take part in.

Making jokes about mental illness is kind of an us and them atmosphere.  If you don’t have personal experience with mental illness, then it does feel very much like you are laughing AT me instead of WITH me.  A joke with a friend comes from a place of understanding and knowing just how shitty living with a mental illness is.  While a joke from a stranger feels like it comes from a place of fear and judgement.

I have spent a lot of time in psychiatric wards.  I have been around a lot of people who have a variety of mental illnesses.  These people were also at different places in their wellness journey.  One thing that they all had was a sense of humour about their ‘craziness’.  There was minimal judgement, everyone was in there for some sort of break they’d had in their life.  We shared stories and laughed at the stupid things we’d done.

A lot of people, myself included, use humour to fall back on when things are getting a little too real and to make a connection to someone.  I have often felt uncomfortable with a Dr who didn’t make small talk and was all business.  Joesph Burgo from After Psychotherapy states:

When a client says something funny and I laugh, I’m saying I like you and enjoy this work we’re doing together. If I make an ironic remark and my client finds it amusing, she’s telling me she likes me, too. As an aspect of the healing psychotherapy relationship, laughing along with a client often contains a feeling of mutual affection. Especially for people who suffer from basic or core shame resulting from failures of attachment early on, this affection can help to mitigate that damage and alleviate the most painful parts of shame.

The mentally ill are never portrayed nicely in the media or entertainment industry.  They are often the ‘bad guy’ or seen as copping out by blaming their mental illness for something they did.  This attitude helps to fuel the misunderstanding of people with a mental illness.  While society is still being bombarded with images of what a mentally ill person looks and acts like, they will still continue to make light of the struggles these people go through.

I can handle jokes about mental illness up until a certain point.  There are jokes that are made to help alleviate anxiety, and then there are jokes that are made to cause pain.  I wouldn’t make a joke about having cancer because I don’t have it, so please, if you don’t have personal experience with mental illness don’t make jokes about it.

Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT


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9 thoughts on “No Joking Matter

  1. Lee-Anne

    Agree it’s insensitive to joke about mental illness unless you are touched by it yourself. The media and society generally are notorious for stereotyping everything outside a narrow criteria of ‘normal’.

    Having said this, I love black humour and will often joke about something that may be a little inappropriate. It’s a case of “if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry…”


  2. Kira @ BellyBubba

    Wonderful post. The stigma around mental health issues is appalling, there is definitely a fine line to enjoying the respect for one another and inflicting anxieties using words. Thank-you for posting.

  3. Lisa Wood

    We are a family that is in direct contact with Mental illness and sorry but its never ever a laughing joke, nor would I want to hear one, or make one.
    Its something that We as a family have to face from many different aspects, and one that we make sure our family member is safe by phone calls and visits/medication and hospital visits. Its now a part of that person’s lifestyle and we know that we are mindful with what we are saying that we do not hurt the person more than they are already hurting.
    Its good to read about it here, be good to read more personal stories instead of people hiding it under the carpets 🙂

  4. Becc

    I have to admit, even though we have a family history and I have been through my own saga with mental illness, I had not really noticed (or at least thought much about) the way the media and entertainment industry portray mental illness. You are right though.
    There are so many different levels and variations of mental illness and although there are some people who are seriously psychotic, they account for a very small number of people who are suffering.
    Maybe we should write a series about a group of friends dealing with their different issues. It could actually be quite gripping.
    And, no, that was not a joke. Getting a group of people with different variations of mental illness (who can write) is one of the best ideas I have had in a long time!

  5. Janet @ Redland City Living

    I’ve had depression. A good friend of mine has bipolar. We often joke about being “crazy” (especially when my friend is in one of her manic phases!) … but I guess it’s like you said, it’s our “inside joke”, if other people said it I would be the first to defend my friend!

    Visiting today from #teamIBOT xxx

  6. Sarah@SnippetsandSpirits

    I wonder where the attitude that it is ok to make crazy jokes comes from?
    I guess as you say it is from TV and movies how influenced by these unrealistic portrayals we are. Although the movie girl interrupted popped into my head while reading this post from memory it is not funny but no doubt glossed over to make more appealing for TV. As always I enjoy reading you’re thought provoking words thank you for sharing.

  7. Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me

    It could be said that I do this when I talk about how I am slightly cray cray, as in crazy, but in fairness I sometimes feel I am, it’s not about taking the piss out of others, I’d never do that. I’ve had my ups and downs and battles, but I am not brave enough to tell the world like you – so big ups to you lovely! Merry Christmas if we don’t ‘speak’ before then!! x

  8. EssentiallyJess

    I never thought about the attitude portrayed in movies, and yet I just watched a TV episode with a psychotic murderer. It’s sad that I didn’t even question that.
    I’ve got a friend with mental illness, to a degree I’ve never seen personally before. Since knowing them my eyes have been opened and I’ve become quite frustrated by flippant comments other people make regarding their behaviour. It’s very insensitive at times, and on no way helpful.


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