Anyone who spends time on social media has probably seen posts that appear to be a cry for help. You might see someone posting that they just can’t take it anymore, or they are about to have a breakdown, or the world would be better off without them. These posts might make you cringe because they always seem to be sad, desperate, or a cry for attention. These types of posts are called sadfishing, and it can be hard to determine if it is a cry for help or for attention. In this article, we will examine sadfishing and why teenagers are doing it.
What is sadfishing?
Sadfishing occurs when a teen posts content on their social media account that exaggerates or fabricates their emotional and mental health. They may post about depression, anxiety or even suicidal thoughts, even when they are not actually experiencing those feelings, or at least not to that intensity. This can manifest in many different ways. You may see your teen sharing status updates about depression, crying or posting pictures of self-harm; They might also be sharing lyrics or songs that are negative.
Sadfishing posts can get teens messages like “we love you” or “you’re beautiful,” things that can boost self-esteem, but these positive comments just reinforce the effects of sadfishing. However, not all of these posts get that kind of response, and it can truly hurt the mental health of a teen whose post of them sobbing about their life does not garner many positive responses.
We used to show our happy faces to the world through social media, sharing how wonderful everything is. Look at this perfect relationship, this perfect meal, this perfect life. Sadfishing is the much darker other side of that coin. Now, everything is horrible. We are looking for sympathy instead of inciting jealousy because our lives are “so perfect.” Unfortunately, sadfishing may be more harmful to teens than the “everything is perfect” social media personas.
How can I tell if the sadfishing is genuine?
On the surface, it can be difficult to discern if your teen is sadfishing because it is a trend or if they really need help. If someone is genuinely struggling with their mental health, their posts often clearly state what they are struggling with and that they need help. They might even state that the author intends to end their life because of the pain. These types of posts are genuine.
When someone is sadfishing, their posts are vague. They often lack an explanation, which draws in your need to know more about what is going on and to show them some support. However, even if the post seems like it is just a vague sadfishing attempt, there could still be some truth behind the post, so it is important as a parent to still look into it when you see your teens posting things like this.
Another way to try to determine if their sadfishing posts are genuine is to look back at their other posts and see if this seems to come out of the blue. If their past posts are usually pretty dramatic, even if they were not always about sadfishing, it is a good indication that they are jumping on the bandwagon of this trend.
Also, watching their behavior versus their posts can be a big indicator. For example, your teen is posting about being too depressed to get out of bed, but yet they are jumping out of bed in the morning and spending their days running around outside; they are probably sadfishing. They can “fake it” and act like nothing is wrong when inside they are depressed, but if they are actually in emotional distress, you will most likely notice signs in their mood or energy levels accompanying these posts.
Even if the posts do not seem genuine if your teen is posting about not wanting to live or self-harm, talk to them about it. This is something that should always be taken seriously. According to the CDC, the suicide rates in children between the ages of 10 and 14 have tripled in the last decade. So even if the sadfishing is not real, it is crucial to talk to your teen about it in case it is real.
Why are teens sadfishing?
When a teenager starts sadfishing, whether they are posting about depression, hopelessness, or even suicidal ideation, they are asking for attention — either consciously or subconsciously. This can also sometimes be a cry for help, but it can be difficult to determine if it is.
If you see your teenager sadfishing and making some worrisome posts on social media, it is important to check on their mental health. They might be hoping that someone will notice they are in pain. A teen might be trying to get validation for their feelings to connect with others. However, seeking that on social media does not usually have the results that they are looking for.
One of the problems with sadfishing is that not every teen who does it is struggling with their mental health. Some teens just do it because they want to gain attention, sending false signals to their family and friends about what is really going on in their life.
Some teenagers may turn to sadfishing as a quick fix to relieve their anxiety or fear instead of seeking genuine help. It can feel a little less invasive than asking for real help with something, even though it does not truly help with anything.
Another reason they might be sadfishing is because celebrities do it. Kendall Jenner is known for sadfishing posts to help gain attention from her followers, which can make teens that look up to her want to do it too. Jenner did an entire ad campaign that was based on sadfishing for a skincare company, which drew a lot of attention from fans and haters alike.
The impact of sadfishing
True cries for help get overlooked
Since so many teens engage in sadfishing, it can diminish how valid the claims can be. It is similar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf; with so many sadfishing posts out there, a teen who genuinely needs help might slip through the cracks and be overlooked.
For example, let’s say you have two teenage children who both engage in sadfishing. One is sadfishing because it is the “in” thing right now but does not actually need help. The other teen is struggling and sadfishing as a cry for help; they are using social media as an outlet to connect with others about what is going on in their lives. However, you know that the first teen who sadfishes because it is cool is clearly doing fine, so you might not look too closely at the teen who genuinely needs help, assuming they are also just doing it to fit in. That teen is not going to get the help that they need because their sibling and their friends are sadfishing when they do not need help, so their posts just elicit a cringe and an eye roll.
Romanticizing negative feelings can cause mental health to decline
Teenagers can struggle with their mental health as much as adults do. Many mental health conditions emerge by the time someone is 14 years old, and sadfishing is a way that those suffering can try to get help. But by capitalizing on these feelings of depression and anguish, most of these posts are nothing more than a nuisance but nothing to really worry about.
Sadfishing can blur the line between exaggerating emotions and genuinely feeling them, helping to create some mental health issues for teens. They can get sucked into romanticizing negative thought patterns and start truly feeling them.
When you constantly talk about how bad and negative something is in your life, claiming you are living in a black hole of despair, eventually, you will find yourself sinking into that despair for real. Dwelling on the bad, no matter how real it is, can begin to overtake all of the good in your life.
Online predators usually look for vulnerable kids, and if a teen is genuinely looking for support on social media, there is a risk of a predator reaching out. This is a much less common risk with sadfishing, but it can happen, so parents need to stay aware of it. Of course, it is not the teenager’s fault that the predator targets them, but it is important to remind your teens that sharing their emotional vulnerability can run the risk of attracting predators.
Impact mental health
Spending too much time on social media is known to have adverse effects on the mental health of teens. It is linked to higher rates of both depression and anxiety. There are many reasons that social media can harm their mental health, including cyberbullying, seeing their friends sadfishing, and even an altered photo of someone hurting their self-esteem. However, keeping your teens off of social media can also harm their mental health since all of their friends are on it, so they can feel left out without it. While sadfishing itself can hurt their mental health, it is important to keep in mind that it is not the only danger on social media.
How a parent can help
The main thing you can do as a parent is monitor your teen’s social media accounts and talk to them about any signs of sadfishing. If you see your teen make sadfishing posts, sit down with them and talk to them about what they are posting. Show them that you care and are here for them if they truly need help.
Of course, your teenager might have a secret social media account where they post more personal things — commonly called a “finsta” — so you might not always be able to see their sadfishing posts. With that in mind, it is also a good idea to talk to your teen about sadfishing in general and make it clear to them that you are here to help them if they are struggling.
Start a dialogue
If you find out your teenager is sadfishing, your first instinct might be to confront them and possibly ground them, but that should not be your first reaction. Instead of reprimanding your teen, talk to them about their mental health. Ask them what is going on and remind them that you are here to support them no matter what. Your teen might not feel comfortable talking to you about their mental health, and that is okay. Urge them to talk to another trusted adult or even offer to find them a therapist so they have a neutral party to talk to.
You definitely need to be following your teen on social media to talk to them about their posts. It is advised that you make a rule for your family that if your children have a social media account, they have to let you follow them. They are not as likely to take up your offers to help them if they feel like you have been spying on them. If you are not following them on social media, or you find something troubling on their finsta, it can be much harder to get them to open it; think of it like you were reading their diary. In those cases, it is a good idea to just keep an open dialogue with them about mental health, so they know they can turn to you when they need to.
Teach them coping skills
Your kids learn from you, so make sure you are modeling good coping skills for stress, depression, and anxiety. Teach them healthy ways to handle their mental health, like journaling, meditation, using an anxiety relief app, art, or even just a bubble bath after a stressful day. These coping skills may be able to help them deal with the negative effects of sadfishing by themselves or their peers.