BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

The Light and Dark Side to Memes: Understanding the Impact of Memes on Mental Health

Author: Prabdeep Panesar

Who doesn’t love a good meme? Memes are a wonderful way to make us laugh and share information with the world through social media. They also act as a collective coping mechanism, helping us all laugh at the stresses and anxieties we face in life. Whenever we share memes with each other, it helps us bond with one another over common interests and experiences, ultimately creating a sense of community.

As graduate students or faculty members, we love seeing memes related to our struggles in research, learning, and overall mental health. However, are there any pros or cons to laughing at these memes (Akram & Drabble, 2022)?

In comparison to other forms of online content, memes, especially those related to highly stressful contexts like the COVID-19 pandemic (or maybe like doing your master’s/PhD), have been observed to show greater levels of reported humour and may help in coping with stress (Myrick et al., 2022). Another study also observed that compared to controls, those experiencing symptoms of depression rated depression-related memes higher in humor, relatability, shareability, and mood improvement potential (Akram et al., 2020). These studies suggest that during times of difficulties, memes offer a humorous perspective on negative emotions and experiences, helping people feel supported and connected with those around them who are facing similar experiences. However, another recent study observed that after healthy young adults were exposed to depression-related memes, they experienced an increase in depressive symptoms (Akil et al., 2022). More specifically, greater depressive mood following exposure to depression memes was observed among individuals experiencing difficulties in emotional regulation, impulse control, and goal-directed behaviours during emotional distress.

When I was personally thinking about these studies, and comparing the results by Akram et al., and Akil et al., I thought that aside from the behavioural moderators that the authors outlined, the differences in whether an individual’s mood was improved or worsened after observing depression related memes may be associated to whether they can relate to the memes and laugh about it, or not. Either way, these results highlight that it’s important to remember that the impact of memes may not be the same for each person and can potentially be negative! However, as we all continue to navigate the stressful endeavour of life and our graduate journey’s indulging in some memes might help you feel better by giving you a little chuckle and reminding you that there is a community of people that can relate to your struggles! Feel free to start now by seeing some memes that you might relate to as a graduate student or faculty member:


Akil, A. M., Ujhelyi, A., & Logemann, H. N. A. (2022). Exposure to Depression Memes on Social Media Increases Depressive Mood and It Is Moderated by Self-Regulation: Evidence From Self-Report and Resting EEG Assessments. Front Psychol, 13, 880065.


Akram, U., & Drabble, J. (2022, 09/27). Mental Health Memes: Beneficial or Aversive in Relation to Psychiatric Symptoms? Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9.


Akram, U., Drabble, J., Cau, G., Hershaw, F., Rajenthran, A., Lowe, M., Trommelen, C., & Ellis, J. G. (2020, 2020/01/21). Exploratory study on the role of emotion regulation in perceived valence, humour, and beneficial use of depressive internet memes in depression. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 899.


Myrick, J. G., Nabi, R. L., & Eng, N. J. (2022). Consuming memes during the COVID pandemic: Effects of memes and meme type on COVID-related stress and coping efficacy. Psychology of Popular Media, 11(3), 316-323.