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How To Deal When Jokes are Made About Mental Illness

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on


Written by Maggie Kent 

We have all heard them, people making jokes like “I feel so depressed” about something or jokingly saying they are “so OCD” when they like to keep their desk neat or claiming that they “have PTSD” from a minor incident. Personally, I hear people make jokes like these frequently and I have always just stayed quiet. Sometimes I have even forced a laugh when the person is just talking directly to me. However, the more I think about it and the more I become involved with the mental health community, the less I think these are funny and the less I tolerate them.

It is awkward, though, to know what to do when someone around you makes a joke like this. Do you call them out? Do you remain quiet and let it pass? Do you even laugh in an effort to not create an awkward situation? 

I have laid out 3 different methods for your use when you hear jokes like this in the future. 

Take their joke seriously (even if you know it isn’t).

I have found this actually really works because you are showing the person that you take mental illness seriously but it is also subtly calling them out for using something so serious as a joke. For example: your co-worker says “these client meetings are making me depressed” and you say “I’m sorry, that’s so hard, please let me know if there’s anything I can do”. Usually after this the other person will have to clarify that they were joking and it makes them think about the impact of their jokes.

Call them out.

This one is pretty straightforward, when someone makes a joke like “I am so bipolar today, I felt so happy this morning and now I’m stressed” you simply say that you don’t appreciate them using mental illness as a joke. Remember to be polite but firm and usually the point will be driven home for the other person.

Keep the joking tone but remind them that it’s not funny.

This one is what I usually do when I don’t want to be so in their face or if it is my boss that I’m talking to and I don’t feel comfortable being so aggressive. Someone jokingly says to you “this mess on my desk is making my OCD freak out, I need to clean it” you say, still in a joking tone, “I don’t know I think you just like being neat, nothing OCD about that”. Keep it light but it is clear that the joke was not appropriate. If the person persists or doesn’t understand what you were trying to do then I would suggest switching to method 1 or 2. 


It would be amazing if people understood that mental illness is nothing to joke about but for the time being these three methods have worked for me in the past to educate and inform those who thought these jokes were appropriate and funny.


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