Internet memes could help people with depression, new study finds

People suffering from depression relate to internet memes which portray dark and depressing content in a more positive way than those not suffering from symptoms of depression, according to a new study by Sheffield Hallam University.

This study, by academics in the University’s Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics, examined the different interpretations of people suffering clinically significant depressive symptoms compared to a control group who were not suffering from depression.

Forty-three people with depression took part in the study, alongside 56 non-depressed people. Each person viewed a number of depressive and neutral internet memes. The perception of humour, relatability, shareability and mood improving potential of depressive memes were all greater amongst individuals with symptoms of depression.

The findings suggest that despite their negative orientation, internet memes related to depression may be beneficial for individuals experiencing consistent symptoms. 

Specifically, by potentially facilitating a humorous take on a negative experience and situation as well as giving the perception of peer support through connection with others experiencing similar symptoms.


On average, we spend around three hours a day on social media platforms, which have now become a main source of information. These platforms provide social communities which promote individual expression through viral sharing and creative participation.


Dr Umair Akram, lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University who led the study, said: “Up to 27% of the general population experience symptoms of depression. Our findings highlight the possible benefits of negative humour for those with depression.

“Depressive memes visualise the experience and encumbering nature of depressive symptoms, which for many may be difficult to put into words. This can often lead to depressed people avoiding face-to-face interaction and becoming isolated.

“By sharing and observing depressive memes, depressed people can form socially supportive and emotional bonds with others. Ultimately, this might help depressed individuals to feel that they are not alone in the experience of their symptoms.

“We hope to conduct more research to explore exactly how and why depressed individuals interact with depressive memes. In the future, this might result in a new way to tackle the symptoms of depression.”

The study has been published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

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