By Mckala Lindsey
Despite what many college students think, “I want to kill myself” is not an acceptable alternative to, “I am stressed about this paper,” or, “I am upset that I failed that exam.” I know that we all use these suicide-related phrases to express our disgruntlement. Don’t act like we don’t. I hear an abundance of them every day as I walk through the Valley or when I’m doing homework in Mocha Joe’s.
Unfortunately, they have become the new norm, and when people say them, no one bats an eye. A lot of times, people just laugh and nod along in agreement. It isn’t just our campus either; the normalization of suicide jokes has become an epidemic that is infecting campuses all across the nation and it needs to end.
In an age of political correctness and “social justice warriors,” it may seem like I am being overly sensitive—that I am just some snowflake who doesn’t know how to take a joke. I mean, it is just a joke isn’t it?
However, in a world where suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, suicide jokes are much more than just a simple expression of your frustration and exhaustion. Suicide jokes strengthen the stigma around mental illnesses and can cause serious damage to the people who hear them.
Whenever someone makes a suicide joke, unwittingly or not, they are mocking suicide. They are also mocking those who have experienced suicidal ideation. When someone comments about how, if they don’t pass their test then they are going to jump in front of a bus, they are trivializing the struggles that people with depression have gone through. They are trivializing their deepest, darkest, and most isolating thoughts and emotions.
Not only are suicide jokes trivializing those who have experienced suicidal ideation, but they are also putting those people in danger. Hearing those types of jokes can make people hesitant to come forward and get the help that they need out of fear of being judged or ridiculed. They think that they will either not be taken seriously or mocked for what they are feeling.
This form of gallows humor also makes it increasingly difficult to determine who is truly reaching out for help. It is usually a warning sign that someone is experiencing suicidal ideation when they make jokes and comments about taking their own life.
In a society where that kind of humor is normalized and sometimes even encouraged, it becomes nearly impossible to differentiate between who is trying to reach out and who is simply making a joke.
Beyond all of this, though, it is simply bad form to make a joke about suicide. You never know who may be around, and there are so many people whose lives have been affected by suicide. When they hear these jokes, they are hurt. It brings them back to the moment when they received the news that their loved one died by suicide. It can make them relive the moment that they sat in their room and contemplated ending it all.
Whether someone has known an individual who has died by suicide or if they have attempted suicide themselves, it can be severely jarring to hear someone making light of something that brings nothing but sadness and tragedy.
I know that it can be difficult to change something that you have become so used to, but we all need to make a conscious effort to do so. No one should ever have to feel afraid to come forward and get the help that they need. No one’s emotions should ever be trivialized or their experiences mitigated by careless words. No one should ever be forced to relive their worst and darkest moments for the sake of some off-handed joke.
We all need to be mindful of the things that we say and how they affect those around us. It is time to put an end to suicide jokes once and for all.
Mckala Lindsey is a junior Spanish major from St. Joseph, Illinois.