If you heard someone broadcasting that they jokingly wished they had cancer, would you feel uncomfortable and offended? Hopefully, the majority agree that this joke is insulting, considering that over half a million Americans die of cancer every year. However, many find it funny when suicide, the tenth-leading cause of death in the USA, is joked about. No one should joke about suicide.
According to CareDimensions, a care facility that specializes in mental health awareness and life-threatening illnesses: “to people who think about ending their own lives, suicide represents an answer to an otherwise insoluble problem or a way out of an unbearable dilemma. The suicidal person is convinced that absolutely nothing can be done to improve his or her situation; no one else can help.”
Individuals who face struggles with suicide, in most cases, are fighting related psychiatric diseases, depression, substance use disorders or other trauma-related disorders. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that “90% of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.” Suicidal behavior and thoughts are directly correlated and connected to chemical imbalances within the brain.
In 2020, new research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that during the COVID-19 pandemic, one in four people in the age group 18–24 earnestly contemplated suicide due to increased anxiety and depression.
As individuals make suicidal jokes during everyday ventures — such as “what if I just jumped off this bridge?” — the severity and seriousness of suicide becomes demolished. Mental health and suicidal thoughts are hard enough to talk about, but as jokes continue, individuals will feel they won’t be taken seriously when they open up.
It is also important to remember that no one knows what is going on in someone’s head or their history. What can be lighthearted and funny to you could also be triggering someone back to a traumatic time in their life that causes anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts within themselves.
Some could argue that these jokes are not serious, so why is it such a big deal? Others may explain that they would never tell a joke like this in front of someone who is mentally ill and having suicidal thoughts.
These jokes that some consider not serious and just for humor hurt other people. This dark humor causes people with true suicidal feelings to feel shameful for struggling with these intrusive thoughts. Hearing words about killing oneself can easily trigger someone’s mental illness and even push them over the edge to attempt suicide.
Even then, you may not know who is struggling with the temptation to commit suicide. As joking about mental illness has become a prevalent issue, becoming vulnerable and discussing one’s mental health has become much harder, and looming fear has become more prominent.
We can end these hurtful jokes together. When you hear someone try to make suicide comical, actively discourage them. Remind them of the hurt this could inflict on others and the damage it does to the reputation of mental health. Finally, ask them if they are okay. A way of coping with mental illness and suicidal thoughts is to make jokes out of it to mask the pain that is being felt. Anyone could be struggling with suicidal thoughts, including the individuals making humor out of it.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or other mental health, the suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255. Let’s stop the jokes and, instead, spread resources to get help for the people who need it.
Lauren Williamson is a third-year Media and Culture major. LW912994@wcupa.edu
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (n.d.). Account Login. Retrieved November 04, 2020, from https://www.theovernight.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.page
Amour, M. (2020, August 17). Suicidal ideation on the rise for college-aged adults due to COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved November 04, 2020, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/08/17/suicidal-ideation-rise-college-aged-adults-due-covid-19-pandemic
Brådvik, L. (2018, September 17). Suicide Risk and Mental Disorders. Retrieved November 04, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165520/
Welcome to Care Dimensions. (n.d.). Retrieved November 04, 2020, from https://www.caredimensions.org/