We need to stop joking about suicide.
I’m going to say it again.
We need to stop joking about suicide.
Before I go any further I want to preface this article by admitting that I am definitely guilty of tossing “lol kill me” around. So this “we” in the sentences above, includes me too. I am calling myself out as much as I am calling out anyone else. I need to do better.
Kill me now. I’m going to kill myself. Ugh KMS.
We toss these around when we are having a bad day. When we are stressed about school work. When we are stuck in an embarrassing moment. When the printer is out of paper and we are running late. Somewhere along the line we decided it was acceptable to threaten suicide in order to ease tension or express temporary frustration. Somehow, suicide has become a mood.
A few things lately have got me thinking about this even more than usual. The first was an instance in one of my classes. It was 8:30am on a Thursday morning and my professor was doing a brief overview of the passages we were going to be discussing in class that morning. We were reading The Aeneid and we were going to be talking about Dido’s suicide. She joked, saying something to the tune of “how joyous and cheery it always is in here talking about suicide and death”. Where there should have been a trigger warning there was a joke. A pathetic attempt to lighten the mood. To be fair, I am sure she had no intention of being insensitive and I thought that the way she conducted the rest of the lecture was thoughtful. But the comment she had prefaced it with has stuck with me. It does not take long to mention at the start of a class that these passages will touch on mental health issues and that that may be triggering to some students in the room. And even if she wasn’t going to include a trigger warning, prefacing the conversation as a “joyous and cheery” discussion was a harmful mistake.
The second instance that has really got me thinking about this was something I overheard while sitting in my campus’ student center a few weeks ago. Before launching into this story I want to say that I have never been to Cornell University and cannot speak to the culture or atmosphere there. Rather, I mean to speak to the conversation I overheard that referenced Cornell. A few tables away from me a few students were talking and one of them mentioned the fencing that had been placed on some of the bridges at Cornell in response to suicide attempts in 2010. He casually joked that suicide is a part of the culture at Cornell and presumed that Cornell students joke about suicide to their peers saying things like “what you haven’t tried it?!”. I was really stunned when I heard this and am struggling to know where to start responding to this now. I am curious as to how the student knows, or presumes to know, so much about the mentality surrounding suicide and mental health at Cornell. I am curious how a string of suicides and Cornell’s response to them has turned the conversation away from combatting mental illness and has instead turned suicide into a trend. Mental health is not a trend. Suicide is not “in”.
So thinking about those two experiences and our general acceptance that casually mentioning suicide is okay, I hope that particularly in these next few weeks, when we are all holed up in the library with caffeine headaches struggling through final exams, papers, and presentations, that we remember that suicide is not a joke. That while we are stressed beyond belief right now that we understand that suicide should not be considered the solution. That the suicide meme you’re about to post on your finsta isn’t funny. That the “lol kms” and “ugh I have so much work I should just kill myself” text you’re about to send is harmful.
I think a lot of the time we forget what suicide really is. To me, that seems to be the only logical explanation for why we toss it into conversation without a second thought. If we really always remembered what suicide is then I really don’t think it could be used so lightly. We have become numb. We don’t realize what we are saying when we say we want to die. Suicide isn’t some after-school activity or whimsical action. It is someone literally deciding not to be here anymore. Someone dies. And I don’t really know when we decided that that was trendy or funny or okay to joke about at all. But we can all do better. We can all stop joking.