How social media users fishing for sympathy have a bearing on mental health

Sadfishing can make teenagers and youngsters vulnerable to online bullies and predators.

Published: 18th January 2020 09:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2020 09:30 AM   |  A+A-


Sadfishing (Express Illustrations)

Express News Service

HYDERABAD:  The internet has laid bare a new world of behaviours and phenomenons. With consumers leading a large portion of their lives online, their activities not only provide data to marketing companies to understand buying preferences, but also to social scientists who study virtual interactions. A few of these trends might have a bearing on mental health too as social media users increasingly chronicle their lives on social media. 

One such newly-minted term is sadfishing which is described as the act of making exaggerated claims about one’s emotional problems to generate sympathy on social media. However, this behaviour, says consultant psychologist Pragya Rashmi, is not new.

"The concept has been there for a long time. Many, especially people with narcissist traits, like to use sadness as a power. They like to portray themselves as victims and seek sympathy. But there is a chance that someone might be genuinely facing a problem and needs help," she adds.


Radhika Acharya, a psychologist, says: “People who sadfish might have low self-esteem and the roots can be traced back to childhood. They might feel that no one cares for them, or they may behave in this way when they feel jealous of someone getting more social media attention.

Often, childhood patterns can have long-lasting effect on us. If a child’s environment is critical and she is not getting the required attention at home, she might sadfish. Also, a child can pick up actions that attract attention. at home.

For example, if a kid shows a stick she has found to her parents, she might be rebuffed or shooed away, but if she breaks something, she has the attention of the parents. Thus she learns that enthusiasm does not get attention, but mischief and mistakes do.”

Sadfishing can make teenagers and youngsters vulnerable to online bullies and predators. “When there are disharmonious relationships in families, a person might not have anyone to talk to. Wanting to be heard, she might post personal details and issues on social media which attract manipulative persons.

Since she is starved of attention from childhood, she tends to form bonds with the wrong people. Everyone, in general, just needs a lap to cry. It is not necessary to even solve the problems. Also, schools should teach children life skills. Children should be given unconditional regard, otherwise they might seek other sources for succour.” 

Cry for help can be genuine

Baijesh Ramesh, a clinical psychologist, says: "When a person indulges in sadfishing, there are three possible scenarios. In the first one, people might genuinely have no one to talk to, or they might not know how to express themselves.  This term is being used among youngsters now to shame anyone who might be sharing her problems. The shaming might lead to a person clamming up, posing a danger to her mental health. Most mental health professionals take any talk of self-harm or suicide with utmost seriousness, even if the person does not intend to kill herself. The social media might be the last resort for someone to speak about these issues, and if we can prevent people from harming themselves at this stage, it is the best we can do."

"In the second scenario, there are people who look for social media validation. A girl who came to me had said how she was not getting any social media ‘likes’ until she wrote about a stressful situation. She was the overwhelmed by the response she received and even created false scenarios. However, this behaviour led to a few persons taking advantage of her. This can’t be attributed to sadfishing alone, and there are many elements at play here. In the third scenario, a person might have a personality trait or psychological disorder which makes her seek attention always."

Sana Parveen, a 24-year-old, says, "I think the concept is just another extension of the social system that still considers mental illness a taboo. While I understand there are grey shades to it, it should definitely not be a reason to bully those who are suffering in silence. Many a time, it is social media and the like-minded people one finds there that help people come out of their shell, as they are scared to talk to their family and friends about what they are going through. We are taking away that space from them with such allegations."

Sadfishing can be used to gain sympathy online, but it can lead to shaming too.

Origin: The term sadfishing was first used by Rebecca Reid while attacking an Instagram post by Kris Jenner.

Other Online behaviours

Two other terms making rounds in social media are ‘blackfishing’ and ‘catfishing’. While the former means faking someone’s race, catfishing is a deceptive act where a person creates a fake identity online and uses that to dupe others.

 The writer can be contacted at 

Twitter: @KakoliMukherje2

India Matters


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