Author: Molly Venus, Unchained Brain Executive
Trigger Warning: Talks about suicide.
Last year was the first time as a student that I ever had a teacher call home to speak with my parents. However, this wasn’t a call home to discuss my behavior rather than to discuss thoughts that I had been having. The reason that she called my parents was to alert them that I had disclosed to her I was having suicidal ideations. I didn’t know that not everyone thought of just ending it all. You hear kids in the hallway saying that they’re going to kill themselves because they have a math test next period and they haven’t studied for it or say that they’re going to jump off a bridge after each minor inconvenience so the thoughts in your head telling you that you would be better off dead just seemed like a part of the typical teenage experience. Why had I gone so long not knowing the severity of my own thoughts, and where is the line between glamorizing mental illness and normalizing it?
I would like to preface this by saying that the way that one person copes with their mental illness may be completely different from how I cope with mine and that is okay. Finding humor in our situations is a common and relatable way for people to express how they are feeling without feeling like a burden but personally I think we as a society need to stop making jokes about wanting to off ourselves because frankly suicide isn’t funny or quirky. I feel like that should go without saying but, some people love to use suicide as the punchline. I’m guilty of it too. Take a look at a post from my snapchat story from sophomore year saying that “I want to throw myself down a flight of stairs” because I didn’t understand my math homework . Even if I was feeling suicidal, it wasn’t my place to post about it on social media because instead of getting the help that I needed I continued to add to the glamorization of mental illness. Although the word glamorization in terms of mental illness is rather broad this post will be specifically referring to the usage of suicidal phrases for comedic or hyperbolic purposes.
The big question is, how was I not able to differentiate the jokes made by my peers and their own thoughts circulating in my head? I knew what I was thinking about wasn’t healthy, but I just assumed everyone else thought the same way I did. When I confided in my therapist at the time about what I was thinking she also reassured me that thinking about suicide was normal in teenagers in the context of school, so why should I be worried about my own thoughts? I soon found out that it wasn’t normal to have these graphic thoughts. It’s not my therapist’s fault that she misunderstood the context of my thoughts, in her mind my thoughts revolved around certain events and not my life as a whole. This was because I was too scared to come to terms with the fact that was how I viewed the worth of my life along with the idea of my parents finding out. For the longest time I didn’t answer truthfully on the depression screening tests at the doctor’s offices and even when I was called down to my guidance counselor’s office after telling my teacher I didn’t tell him the full truth because if I was taken seriously then what would that make of me?
How do we get to the point where we don’t have to differentiate between a joke and a harmful thought and how did we get here? To start, let’s stop making jokes about suicide. I’m not saying that my suicidal thoughts would’ve stopped if Chad from English hadn’t made an insensitive joke, but it would’ve made me understand that I needed to talk to someone about how I was feeling. Next let’s tackle the language we use on social media, there is a narrative being pushed that if you don’t have some kind of mental illness or trauma then you don’t have a sense of humor or an interesting personality. This is extremely dangerous because it is straight up romanticizing mental illnesses, having depression is not an accessory that you can take on and off whenever you need some content for your finsta. If you don’t feel as though you need a professional diagnosis, then don’t joke about having depression or wanting to end your life on social media. You’re not helping end the stigma, you’re just making it harder for people who are actually suffering to get the help that they need when they already have to battle their own thoughts and the stigma around mental health. So next time you suffer an inconvenience and want to make a joke at the expense of the situation, don’t make ending your life be the punchline.