Is Sadfishing a Cry for Help or Attention

by Auz Burger
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You have probably seen sadfishing on social media, even though you do not know the name of it. A teenager posts some cryptic message about how bad they feel or posts a teary-eyed photo; the post then is filled with comments of love and support.

When a teenager is sadfishing on social media, it is definitely a cry for attention, but is it also a cry for help? It can be tricky to tell if a teenager is fishing for sympathetic comments or if they are truly depressed, and the only way they can think of expressing that is on social media.

They might be experiencing these emotions, but they are exaggerating them on social media to get more attention, but it can be really hard to tell the difference.

sad teenager on his phone photo credit Sneksy from Getty Images Signature
Photo credit: Sneksy from Getty Images Signature via

*Post may contain affiliate links. Full disclosure can be viewed here.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s mental well-being, please make sure you reach out to a physician or qualified mental health provider.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or use the 988 Lifeline.

What is Sadfishing?

The term sadfishing was coined in 2019 after Kendall Jenner made an emotional post on Instagram about having acne, which garnered a lot of sympathy from her followers. Then, it was revealed that this was nothing but an advertising campaign for Proactiv, the acne medication.

Following this incident, Journalist Rebecca Reid coined the term because Jenner made such exaggerated online claims only because she wanted to get attention, sympathy, followers, and likes.

After the term became more widely circulated, people began using the term sadfishing whenever others were making emotional and vulnerable posts that seemed to be unauthentic. The issue is that not everyone is sadfishing when they make these kinds of posts, and it can be hard to discern whether or not they are real.

To make things worse, when the posts are genuine, it can be hard to spot them among the fakes. Social media has essentially replaced diaries for teens and tweens today, but instead of sharing things privately with your diary pages, they are sharing things with a public audience and getting responses.

Is My Child Sadfishing?

As a parent, it can be hard to determine if your teenager is sadfishing or if they are posting on social media as a cry for help. Since social media is just text, you are not going to be able to pick up on visual cues that you would be able to get if you were talking face-to-face. The first thing you need to do if you see your teenager posting things that look like sadfishing online is talk to them.

Be open and let them talk without judgment. However, since they might not necessarily feel comfortable telling their parents everything, it is a good idea to also consider reaching out to a mental health professional just to be safe.

Your teenager might be craving more attention from you. They might want more positive attention from their friends. Or they might be hurting and are not sure how to communicate that. They might also be testing the loyalty of others so they can decide who cares about them based on their reactions to these posts.

Signs Sadfishing is a Cry for Help

While it can be hard to tell if your teen’s sadfishing is genuine or not, there are a few warning signs that they are truly in distress. If a teenager is posting statements like these, it is time to seek help:

  • Everyone would be better off without me.
  • I have nothing to live for/look forward to.
  • Life is pointless.

These statements, along with your teen showing signs of depression, and hopelessness, making statements deprecating their self-worth, or showing fascination with death, may mean they are depressed and possibly contemplating suicide.

Did your teenager suddenly start posting dramatic or emotional posts when they used to only post more positive things? This could be a sign that something is wrong or happening in their life and they need help. Stay on the lookout for posts that talk about self-harm or substance abuse as well.

Talking to Your Teenager About Sadfishing

If you see your teenager making posts that may be sadfishing, it is important to talk to them about what they are thinking and feeling. Ask why they decided to make these emotional posts on their social media and listen to what they say without judgment or jumping in to try to fix things. Be supportive and avoid minimizing what they are experiencing.

Never say things like “that does not sound that bad” or “get over it.” Statements like this can hurt your teen and cause them to shut down.

For some teens, it can feel empowering for them to post their feelings. Try to guide them to share their feelings in a healthier way than sadfishing. Make sure you acknowledge their courage by posting their struggles on social media, even if that is not the best way for them to do that.

If you talk to your child about their social media posts and it becomes clear that they are trying to look cool because celebrities or their friends are doing it, you need to have a serious conversation with them.

Explain to your teen that by sadfishing, they may be making it harder for someone who truly needs help to get the attention they need because of too many sadfishing posts. In addition to making it harder for those who need help to get it, sadfishing posts also have the potential to trigger someone else’s depression or anxiety.

Be careful, though; falsely accusing your teen of sadfishing can hurt their mental health more. They might be at risk of feeling ashamed of their attempts to get help, develop anxiety, or even have lowered self-esteem. This can also make them feel discouraged from getting help from you or others about their mental health.

Final Thoughts

Overall, sadfishing can truly go either way; some post it because they are reaching out for help, and others are just looking for attention because “it’s cool.” If you see your teenager making posts that seem to be sadfishing, look for potential warning signs of suicidal ideation and talk to them gently.

Make sure you do not throw out accusations about sadfishing; just ask them what is going on in their lives that is causing those social media posts.


  • Auz Burger

    Auz Burger is a freelance writer and an expert in mental health. She has a BA from Washington State University and has been writing and editing professionally for over a decade.

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