Delulu – A Fun Little Trend Or An Ableist Slur?

“I think the public needs to be educated about things like this and know that they’re conflating a bit of harmless fun with a very serious psychiatric disorder."
Hand shadow on woman's face. Mental health idea.
Liudmila Evsegneeva via Getty Images
Hand shadow on woman's face. Mental health idea.

May all your delulu come trelulu. This is just one of the many quippy phrases trending on social media making light of a *delusional* attitude towards life. But, as with all trivialisations of mental health disorders, the delulu trend is leaving behind an ableist aftertaste.

The hashtag #delulu has now reached over an eye-watering 3.3B views on TikTok (at the time of reporting).

Posts range from light-hearted romanticism and manifestation-style positive thinking (albeit, a little on the unrealistic side), to full-blown displays of toxic and abusive behaviour.

One user, following a no-text-back set up punchlines by displaying a room light up with CCTV cameras, supposedly tracking her romantic interest. Another shows friends choosing to believe impossibly positive outcomes to situations that could otherwise be upsetting; like being ghosted, cheated on — or spoken to nastily.

While the context makes fun of a deluded outlook on life, and sometimes makes for light scrolling, there’s something that this trend is getting quite wrong. For those living with delusion-based disorders, this is not what delusion looks like.

For Lizzie Smith*, the trend has become something of a gross display.

“One TikTok said ‘stay delulu babies’ and I’m like — what? Why would you want to be delusional? It’s actually a really scary thing,” she says.

Smith, who has experienced paranoid delusion as part of a psychotic episode, says that watching people romanticise the mental health condition shows ignorance towards those who suffer.

“It takes away from people’s actual experiences with quite a severe mental illness symptom,” she says, “I think there’s like a lot of misinformation about the term.”

Jason Ward, UKCP-accredited psychotherapist and Clinic Director of DBT London Services, explains that the trivialisation of serious mental health conditions is harmful.

“I think the public needs to be educated about things like this and know that they’re conflating a bit of harmless fun with a very serious psychiatric disorder,” he tells me.

Ward discusses the frightening nature of delusions and the impact they can have on the people who witness them.

“If the person from the street actually spent time with someone that was delusional, that would probably stay with them for the rest of their life.”

But it isn’t just those around someone experiencing an episode who are affected. “God knows the sort of abject terror that these people experience, especially when they start that crossover back to reality — if they can get back, and they realise how unwell they’ve been.”

Raychel Lawrence, a mental health and feminist activist, called out the usage of ‘delulu’ in an Instagram post. In it, she explains how this new “quirky girl trend” misunderstands serious mental health disorders by using delusional interchangeably with romanticism.

“People that experience psychosis, or actual delusions, are people who are going to be the most ostracised in our society. And now it’s like a fun cute, quirky trend,” she says, “I don’t think people realise the ramifications of it, you know?”

What is a delusion?

Delusions are fixed false beliefs based on incorrect perceptions of reality. The mental health condition is relatively rare but can be brought on by drug and alcohol misuse and withdrawal, as well as acute stress. Some people may experience delusions because of a predisposition to certain mental health disorders, too. Though a direct cause of a delusional disorder is unknown.

Nevertheless, the stigma and prejudice aimed at people experiencing mental ill health, like those experiencing real delusions or psychotic episodes, have very real consequences.

A 2020 study by the National Library of Medicine found that ‘mental health programmes and issues are of little importance to governments and institutions, which negatively impacts patient’s ability to recover, (when they are able to access treatment).’ Further trivialisation of poor mental health across social media, as seen with the delulu trend, could represent society’s deep misunderstanding of its severity.

“It might seem like a bit of harmless fun, but there’s no real comprehension about what they’re engaged in,” says Ward.

He warns that we need to be careful with the language we use, as it can have real-world consequences. But it’s not just Ward who feels as though we should be reframing our views on medical speech becoming common parlance.

“This word is being thrown around, but it’s not actually talking about what it means,” says Smith, who fears that its viral-trending nature could lead to more misinformation surrounding the condition. “If you can choose to go delulu deliberately, then you are not delusional. It’s a paradox of itself.”

This view is shared by Lawrence, who tells HuffPost UK that; “real delusions can look like believing that the government are aliens, or that your parents trying to kill you.” The seriousness sinks in further as she explains the traumatising nature of being institutionalised and the impact losing free will can have on a person.

She continues to point out how coopting mental health terminology spreads misinformation.

“For someone who is a bit more naive, or doesn’t know, or someone younger, they’re gonna then associate delusions with a delulu trend, which I think spreads misinformation and waters down how serious delusions can be,” she says.

Ward believes that using words like ‘delulu’, or jumping on trends like this are actually ableist. “People with enduring mental health issues are disabled,” he says. “All that can be done is provide information, and then people can make an informed choice. It’s up to each of us where our morality or our moral compass settles.”