This post is in response to a bit of a challenge by MillenialLifeCrisis. She posted a number of topics she wanted to write about and threw it out to everyone that she’d love to hear everyone else’s opinions.
What we’re going to talk about today is sadfishing and its effects on mental health and those that struggle with it.
According to Wikipedia sadfishing is when people exaggerate claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy. This can be common in people either pretending to be going through a hard time, or actually experiencing it.
The term was first used in reference to Kendall Jenner’s Instagram posts in 2019 about her acne problems. In leading up to the post, she teased that she was ready to reveal her “most raw story” that year to that point. Her mother praised her for “being so brave and vulnerable.” Yeah. About acne. There was speculation before the post that she was struggling with her mental health, or was even coming out. But no. Acne.
My thoughts on the Kardashian–Jenner clan aside, this whole stunt was, obviously, very anti-climactic. Fans were hoping to find someone they looked up to that had the same struggles that they faced. And they were rewarded with acne.
Now I’m not saying that this is something that people don’t struggle with. In my teen years myself and some of my closest friends struggled with cystic acne that during a flare up made it embarrassing to leave the house. While I haven’t been able to find the original post (read: I didn’t look very hard because I can’t stomach sitting through scrolling through her page), I’m sure there was a lot of congratulations for bringing light to such a horrendous problem and also a lot of people basically WTF-ing.
Since then, this term has been applied to seemingly sympathy-seeking behavior, especially as it applies to struggles, be they social, mental, familial, whatever.
But there’s an inherent danger in this behavior. The internet is the only way some kids have for reaching out, especially if they’re in an abusive situation or feel alienated from their peers. Anonymous sites such as Reddit and tumblr are full of kids and young adults searching for help. But what happens when these cries are overshadowed or ignored because of another person sadfishing for attention? I frequent Reddit a lot, and there are always posts from teenagers or young adults in their early 20s on certain subs looking for help dealing with some major issue or another. And the readers on those sites have become very good at ferreting out who is genuine and who is fake. Spend enough time there and you’ll probably be able to start to pick up some clues yourself. But guess what – sometimes they’re wrong and something that reads like fiction is actually the truth.
So what does this teach? That people aren’t going to help, they’re not going to believe you. They’re going to tear apart your story and details provided in replies and look for some kernel that, to them and their view of the world, doesn’t add up.
It can be difficult to figure out if someone is being truthful and looking for support, if they’re looking for sympathy, or at worse they’re at risk of self-harm. What happens when these kids aren’t taken seriously and aren’t directed to proper resources to help them? When they’re bullied online for what they post? Not only is the risk for self-harm there, but also drug-use, other risky behaviors, and ultimately suicide. I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is yet another thing that drives these young people to kill themselves. To some of these kids reaching out online is the last lifeline that they have, their last resort, the final place they can think of to go to get help.
So what’s the solution? Are you sympathetic to every person you come across? I mean, is there really harm in that? But I think it also needs to be made clear that this kind of behavior is damaging to themselves and others. It keeps people from getting the help that they really need. It keeps people from reaching out into the void to try and find someone who understands them and knows how they feel. And that can be very damaging to someone that desperately needs help.