This past August, I was absentmindedly scrolling through TikTok when I stumbled upon a video that caught me off guard. Gabbie Hanna — popular musician, YouTuber and TikToker — was filming herself going on a nonsensical rant about religion, claiming that she was the second coming of Christ. I was, to put it mildly, confused. I rushed to her profile and found that the video I’d seen on my “For You” page was one of hundreds Hanna had posted in the past several days. Each video I watched was more concerning than the last. At one point, Hanna even invited a stranger into her home, causing fans to worry for her safety. The consensus among viewers was clear: Hanna was experiencing a manic episode, and TikTok was on the receiving end.
This may not be the first time you’ve heard the name Gabbie Hanna. Hanna’s career has been long and convoluted, with the influencer starting out on Vine before moving to YouTube and eventually TikTok. Each platform has brought with it its own bout of controversy. On her YouTube channel, “The Gabbie Show,” she faced significant backlash after posting a video about her classmate’s fatal drug overdose. However, nothing has caused as much drama as her recent candor about her mental health struggles.
On March 6, Hanna announced that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Much of her content since then has revolved around breaking the stigma around mental illness and disability, a shift that mimics the actions of many other celebrities. Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez are just a couple examples of stars who have opened up to the public about their own mental health struggles and how it has affected their work and personal life.
In the past, this would have been unthinkable. For so long it was considered taboo to even consider talking about mental health, but now, the act of discussing it is often celebrated. This perspective shift has bled onto social media. Platforms now claim to be “safe spaces” for individuals to work through mental struggles — but how much of this is reality?
During Hanna’s publicized manic episode in August, fans had a variety of reactions. While some tried to help Hanna by urging her to reach out to family and calling the police to request wellness checks, many instead chose to make a spectacle out of her posts. Her comment sections were overflowing with inappropriate jokes and mocking comments. None of these individuals bothered to acknowledge the fact that her behavior was likely out of her control. Instead, they saw it as a source of amusement and even claimed that she was faking it, at a time when what she needed most was support.
She is not alone. Hanna’s case is just one example of a greater pattern that has been emerging on social media for years. While platforms like Instagram and TikTok appear on the surface level to be safe spaces for discourse about mental health, the reality is much more grim. For Kanye West, his downward spiral has become a full-fledged internet meme. Since West’s bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2016, his social media activity has become more and more erratic. Oftentimes, he posts downright bizarre things on Instagram or Twitter, only to delete them hours later.
In West’s case, much of his behavior has been far from harmless. He has been an avid supporter of Donald Trump and has been known to make incredibly inflammatory comments, such as his notion that slavery was in fact a “choice.” This past week, he even took to Twitter to announce that he was going to go “death con 3” on all Jews, a dangerous sentiment in a world where antisemitism is on the rise. His account was locked shortly afterwards, a decision that was celebrated by the internet at large, and rightfully so. Even if West’s comments were just the product of a manic episode — a controversial conclusion as is — speech as hateful as this should never be excused.
Just as social media users latched onto Hanna’s manic episode as their newest form of entertainment, the internet has turned Kanye West’s spiral into their newest punchline. His comment sections possess one of two things: confused individuals who assume West is off his rocker or devoted stans who support and enable the things he’s saying — even when they are harmful. Both ignore the seriousness of West’s mental health, instead using it as a source of entertainment.
It’s one thing for a person to make a joke about their own mental health. How they choose to cope is entirely up to them. However, it’s something else entirely for a person removed from the situation to start making fun of something with serious undertones. It helps no one — West and Hanna included — to jest about their erratic behaviors. The person making the joke may get a small taste of gratification from the likes or comments they receive, but it comes at the cost of exacerbating a set of manic symptoms that are already out of control. As for the third individual in the situation — the person watching from a distance who is struggling with their own mental health — they just get pissed off. One person’s “harmless” joke about mental illness has added to a growing stigma, and has made another person feel worse. It begs the question: If joking about mental health doesn’t help anyone, why on Earth do we do it?
Part of it likely arises from the fact that we tend to joke about things we don’t understand. It is easier to make light of something that feels intimidating or overwhelming than it is to confront that misunderstanding. In the case of mental illness, witnessing someone display serious symptoms of anxiety, depression or even mania can be incredibly taxing. People then turn to humor to help make sense of something beyond their comprehension.
It is also important to acknowledge that Gen Z is known to be humorous in times of tragedy. Countless societal events have infused many with a sense of hopelessness, so much so that nowadays young people are known to be relatively unfazed by new tragedies. To name just a few examples: The landfall of Hurricane Ian filled the internet with viral videos and memes. The COVID-19 pandemic quickly became a running joke on social media. Gen Z has even been known to turn the possibility of World War III into a trending TikTok video. Humor remains a reliable coping mechanism for many, myself included.
However, this doesn’t excuse jokes made about mental health. Social media cannot be the “safe space” it wants to be if discussions of mental illness are met with a wave of inappropriate memes. First and foremost, we need to show empathy. If someone is struggling in the online space — regardless of whether they are famous or not — it should not be the subject of the internet’s next punchline. These are real people, with real emotions, going through something that many people cannot begin to understand.
So, put away your popcorn, folks. It’s time to stop making a spectacle out of mental health.
Daily Arts Contributor Rebecca Smith can be reached at email@example.com.