How does the media downplay black mental health?

Black students of CKHS discuss the issues of black mental health on the internet.


Talor Avery

This drawing depicts a black individual using their phone.

by Talor Avery, Reporter

Mental health is very important to keep on top of, especially when it comes to the internet. When things get rough, it gets hard to hold everything inside together. These are particularly grieving situations for celebrities and internet personalities. It’s disheartening to see someone share their mental health or display their current condition just for their thousands upon millions of fans to share it around in a circle of laughter. This happens a lot with black creators. There’s a prevailing problem within the internet that turns black mental health into a something to point and laugh at.

CKHS students discuss what they’ve witnessed about black mental health being distorted into things it shouldn’t be throughout the internet.

“…they think that it’s just like a joke or entertainment or, even like a reaction or meme…” Nadine Dockendorf, a junior and member of The Black Student Union (BSU) states.

“…I think especially with celebrities,” Lauren Johanek, a senior and member of BSU starts. “It’s like their mental health is seen as not as important because they’re either rich or famous. So people downplay it because of that. People also would think they do it for attention or for excuses. I’ve seen that happen with pretty much any black like musician that had mental health, especially like, male rappers, because a lot of people just think it’s like, making sad songs and it’s like “cringy”, but it’s [content of those songs] literally affecting their day to day life.”

“I’ve seen black mental health kind of made as a joke on the internet.” Peyton Wyatt, a senior and member of BSU states.

Black mental health being demeaned happens so much around the internet, especially when it comes to black celebrities and personalities. Dockendorf, Wyatt, and Johanek bring light to some situations in which they’ve noticed the trend of distorting black mental health.

Quenlin Blackwell is a black internet celebrity whose fame was built upon her charming and comedic videos on vine. When vine was shut down she branched out to different platforms of social media and continued to grow from there. Dockendorf explains how Blackwell was subjected to her health being turned into a means of comedy.

“Quenlin Blackwell, she was a Viner. It’s when she was on Vine that she was going through an eating disorder or some other mental health issues… then when she’d post stuff about her issues, it kind of got turned into a joke… she’s like a funny person. People couldn’t separate her comedy from her real life.”

“And they use her popular stuff where she’s going through issues as a joke rather than addressing it.”

Dockendorf continues about the amount of people who participated in ignoring the gravity of Blackwell’s mental health and how she viewed [and now views] the situation.

“A lot of people who were on social media and who were on Vine. Especially with teens and younger people, because they couldn’t really differentiate when she was making a joke, versus when she was being serious.”

Dockendorf proceeds with how the situation made her feel.

“Well, addressing this now, I’ve definitely taken her seriously when she talks about it. Now when she was like her mental health back then. I’m just like, dang, I was laughing. I was definitely one of the people that were like, ‘Oh my goodness. She is so funny while she’s like crying’ or stuff like that.”

Dockendorf talks about another black personality on the internet who is constantly robbed of the rightful help for their mental health that they deserve.

Tracey Armah, who goes by Tracey Barbie, grew infamously throughout her multiple years on reality tv shows. After the reign and popularity surrounding reality shows died down, she moved onto social media platforms to continue spreading her heinous words and concepts.

“…Tracy Barbie, I think obviously, she’s not in a healthy state of mind and she obviously does things to entertain people…people kind of feed into that and it makes it worse and it fuels it [the joke about her mental health].”

Dockendorf explains how many people were feeding into Barbie’s outlandish situation opposed to ending their enabling.

“I feel like anyone who watches her and the TV shows she gets on a lot. Reality TV shows like Catfish and Dr. Phil. She’s had a lot of shows. It’s like, they use her because she’s obviously making fun of herself. And people react like, “oh! oh my goodness!”
“It’s kind of like a car crash where she’s acting funny and people [like big industries] exploit people like Tracy and viewers actively support that.”

Docekndorf concludes about how these situations [Blackwell and Barbie] made her feel.

“Tracy’s situation was just the stuff she would say was very problematic. So there wasn’t as much I knew about her, but I wasn’t like I was using her for entertainment as I would Quenlin…”

Photograph of Peyton Wyatt, a featured student in this article.

Kanye West is a popular black artist who’s been creating music for decades. Throughout these decades, there’s been many instances in which his mental mishaps are turned into a means of comedy. Wyatt talks more in depth about what West has gone through and how the internet has perceived it.

“I feel like he’s kind of made to be like this from entertainment and more of a joke than actually caring about his mental health and how he acts as a person…” “…they [people on the internet] kind of treat him like he’s just like entertainment, like a clown… they’re just watching him and not actually trying to see what’s wrong [with his health].”

Wyatt continues with how many people fed into demeaning his mental health.

“A majority of people that saw him. Though, some people try to be like, ‘Hey, we should care about his mental health.’ But I feel like a majority of his fans are like, ‘Oh, this is so funny’.”

Concluding, Wyatt talks about how long the media has treated West the way they do.

“probably ever since social media came out? I think that probably once his mom passed away, things started getting bad for him.”

Wyatt brings to light another situation in which a black artist has had their mental problems turned into a means of entertainment.

Will Smith is a black actor who has been involved in Hollywood for decades. He rapidly grew in fame over the years eventually becoming a household name. Though, there have been a few situations where people distort the gravity of his mental issues, specifically his fallout with Chris Rock at the Oscars.

“They kind of made it into a joke as well. What Will Smith did could end up making it harder for black people to get into like acting in the industry. And I feel like people just made a joke out of it.”

Wyatt continues with an estimate of how much of the internet participated in the jokes.

“Probably the majority of people on the internet because they didn’t really see it as, ‘Oh, this is gonna be like something that could harm black people’. They just kind of saw it as ‘haha beef’.”

Wyatt finishes with how Smith’s and West’s situations collectively made her feel.

“It made me feel upset because people would try to make jokes out of them. And it would kind of annoy me.”

Photograph of Lauren Johanek, a featured student in this article.

Janet Jackson is a black artist who’s been making music for years. She’s also been featured in staple movies within the black community. Johanek explains how her mental health has been ignored and demeaned by the media and the black community.

“I think with Janet Jackson, or the entire Jackson family, because since they were raised how they had been for so long, it messed them up…their family didn’t take care of their mental health at all.” Johanek continues, “…since they were so famous, they weren’t really allowed to talk about it [their mental issues]. Or if they did talk about it, it was seen as an excuse because of their fame. Especially with Janet Jackson. She was compared to Michael [Jackson] her entire life. So that led to her having depression, anxiety, and other problems like that. But when she would mention it, it was just seen as normal behavior or something that’s inadequate, even though it’s actually affecting her.”

Johanek proceeds with how many people went through with ignoring Jackson’s discussion about her mental health.

“…everyone, especially the black community. Because a lot of the music that her demographic was towards was poor black individuals. And a lot of them just saw her as this rich figurehead, so they did not care about her mental health because she was better off than them.”

“…also most white people just didn’t understand like black people at all. So they just didn’t even think about their mental health. They more so see it as a means of entertainment.”

Johanek continues with how long Jackson’s issues were demeaned.

“her entire career until she was probably 60. And then she started talking about it more and it was more accepted.”

Johanek concludes about how Jackson’s situation affected them.

“…her situation makes me pretty sad because, especially on my side of the family, a lot of them have mental health issues. And they’re around the age that Janet would be when she was talking about stuff.”

“…I think it’s like where they grew up a long time ago, like in the 60s and 70s. So a lot of them are untreated for mental illnesses. And I know a lot of older people that have bipolar, and they just were never medicated for it because it was such a taboo subject… I think it made the black community, especially like male black people, just not keep mental health in mind…”

Johanek shares one last story about how black people and their mental health is downplayed on the internet.

Britanny Johnson, or better known, LovelyPeaches is a internet personality who slowly grew on the internet famous through the bizarre and obscene things she would post on her social media only for her reign to end when she was arrested and put in a mental institution.

“Brittany Johnson goes by Lovely Peaches. And she’s kind of turned into this, comedians slash entertainment head on Instagram and Tiktok and other places.”

“…I think a lot of people got drawn to her because she was just outrageous. Most of the things she did were just so crazy, not as much problematic. But she was just doing gross things. And like since the people that followed her were a younger demographic, they thought it was hilarious.”

Johanek continues with how many people engaged in Peaches’ content.

“…things were obviously wrong with her or like mentally she was doing really bad, and to the point where people couldn’t tell if she was joking or being serious. And also she started harming herself and others. So I think a lot of people just thought it was entertainment to like the very end and people never really stopped watching her for the reason of her being mentally ill. They stopped watching it because she was going too far.”

Johanek then proceeds with how long people exploited her issues and what drove the end to occur.

“I feel like I was in eighth grade because that’s when she started, so probably 2018 to like 2021. … her fan base dropped significantly because she was just doing things that were so crazy, like breaking into houses and showing nasty stuff [heavily inappropriate content for the general public] on videos and like private parts and stuff… it was getting pretty bad.”

Johanek concludes with how Peaches’ whole situation made them feel over the years leading up to today.

“Peaches made me just worried… it was kind of surreal to see all these people, white or not, just laughing at her when she was clearly going insane… I just don’t know, it was like, funny at first and I was definitely one of the people laughing. But then over time, I was just like, shocked and I was just worried for everyone involved in that situation.”

There are so many more instances [than just the 6 told prior] where black mental health is downplayed and demeaned in the media. It’s been happening for years on end. Dockendorf, Wyatt, and Johanek share their outlooks on the future for whether things can take a positive turn.

Dockendorf shares how she believes why the black mental health problem won’t end soon and what elements feed into it.

‘That’s hard because it’s like, as much as you wish it would [end]… it’s going to be hard, especially if the person beforehand is like a comedic person. So it’s gonna be hard for people to realize the truth, especially if it’s a bunch of middle schoolers and teens… they think everything’s funny. So I don’t know. I think not right now, but I hope it will stop.”

Wyatt shares her beliefs on why the black mental health will continue to be downplayed by the internet.

“I think it’s something that can be stopped. I don’t think it’s going to [end] for a while because I don’t think people really want to put in the work…Also there are people who kind of want to put in the work but don’t all the way… so probably not for a while, but it could.”

Johanek talks about aspects that make it easy for people to downplay the mental health of black personalities on the internet.

“The way that we view them [celebrities] is like they aren’t people. So if we humanize them more than it could be fixed but it’s probably going to take a lot of years to even get there.”

While these topics revolved around celebrities and black individuals on the internet, it’s still a prevalent problem for black people across America to fall victim to their mental health being ignored. Dockendorf, Wyatt, and Johanek discuss what can be done to people from downplaying and demeaning black mental health in general.

“I would say, it all has to do with your own maturity and growing up along with realizing that everything that’s sensitive or something labeled ‘dark humor’ isn’t funny and lacks separation from the rights from wrongs and using your social awareness.” Dockendorf begins.
“I think it’s a lot about your own mental health and being able to say, ‘oh, this doesn’t feel right’ and also coming to your own conclusions… I feel a lot of people think it’s like, ‘oh, if they think it’s funny so I should think it’s funny too’ as if it’s a bandwagon thing…So just forming your own opinions and becoming more emotionally mature. I think that would help stop that [the issue of black mental health on the internet].” Dockendorf concludes.

“I think that if people are better educated… even then, some people just don’t listen, so I think maybe you just have to yell at some people…maybe they’ll start listening.” Wyatt starts.
“Because it doesn’t really seem like anything helps at the moment. I feel like people are like, ‘well, I’m educated’, but you try to educate them and they’re like, ‘oh, well, I don’t actually want to do anything about it’.” Wyatt concludes.

“…talking about the issue more and not making anyone (celebrities or not) feel like it’s [their problem] an excuse, or like downplaying their issues even if it’s just simply anxiety… talking about it more freely is not something that’s hindering you…” Johanek begins.
“And I guess talking to people that can support you is the best way to feel better about yourself… You won’t need to have to go through it alone.”

Black mental health has been downplayed and ignored for decades. It’s important to realize that something a creator portrays as funny isn’t always meant for entertainment. All internet users should take the time to educate themselves on the topic of taking each other’s mental health into serious account as a means to spread helpfulness, hope, and positivity.