This post talks about suicide in a potentially controversial manner, so be aware of that before reading. I want to stress that this post reflects my thoughts and experiences. Many people who joke about suicide are seriously considering it or making plans, so don’t assume it’s ”just a joke.” Always watch for other signs, offer what help you can, and make resources available to them if you suspect someone is thinking about taking their own life. There is never a more fitting time for the phrase “better safe than sorry.” Even a text out of the blue asking someone how it’s going can literally save a life.
If you are considering suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or seek help from your doctor or a counsellor as soon as you can.
I’ve been in and out of counselling for years, and whenever they ask about thoughts of suicide, I’m never quite sure what to say.
Have I thought about it? Of course. Have I thought of potential ways to do it? Yes. But I’ve also planned out the perfect murder. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and kill someone. I’m a writer, and I imagine possibilities. Many of them are quite disturbing.
But have I attempted it? No. I’ve never even made any plans. I often think, on my worst days, that it might be easier to just end it all. Sometimes that felt like the only solution. But deep down I knew I wouldn’t do it. I’ve never been truly suicidal. As bad as it can get sometimes for me, I’m one of the lucky ones.
And yet, when I see suicidal humour, I can relate to it. I think it’s funny. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, that I just have a dark and morbid sense of humour, but there’s always others who can relate to it as well.
But just like minorities take back slurs as acts of empowerment, you can only joke about suicide if you’re really depressed. Or so the internet has led me to believe.
You see a lot of memes floating around, with mental illness ridden millennial and gen z personalities flippantly using phrases like, “I guess I’ll kill myself” in response to minor upsets or setbacks. Many people will say this is extremely inappropriate, and that suicide is no joking matter.
They’re partially right.
But I think that suicide is one of those serious subjects that joking about makes it easier to discuss.
The first time I heard Bo Burnham’s song “Kill Yourself” (a song that basically tells people over and over to kill themselves in different dark but amusing ways) I was uncomfortable and indignant. I thought, that’s not funny. It’s not something to joke about. It could seriously affect someone’s life, for the worse.
Now it gets stuck in my head and it’s one of my favourite comedy songs. So why the change? I think it’s because suicide has become a lot more normalized for me personally. Now, you may think that’s a bad thing, but let me explain.
For me, growing up, suicide was something of a taboo topic, almost a dirty word. It was whispered about in hushed tones. When someone committed suicide, people didn’t like to talk about it. It was a tragedy, yes, but a shameful sort of one. People admitted to the truth about what happened quite reluctantly.
But in the last few years, it’s become much less taboo for me. I discuss it with my counsellor. I’ve read about it. I’ve talked to my partner about it. And it’s become reinforced for me that it is something that happens sometimes, but it’s nobody’s fault.
There is a huge stigma around suicide. People always say it’s such a shame. They had so much to live for. They were so young. How could someone do that. Maybe even, their life couldn’t have been that bad.
Suicide survivors—and by that I mean the people left behind when someone commits suicide—are often reluctant to say what happened to their loved one.
It’s easy to say someone had a heart attack, that they died of cancer, or that they were in a car accident. It’s hard to say that they took their own life. That they committed suicide. That they chose to die.
Part of it is guilt, I think. Survivors think that if they had tried harder, noticed more, did something, it wouldn’t have happened.
And part of it is shame. You don’t want to admit that someone killed themselves on purpose. Society seems to interpret that as a weakness of character. And as guilty as they may feel about it, people don’t want themselves to be associated with that.
But to me, suicide isn’t always a choice. It’s a result of severe depression, a real disease. As real as diabetes or cancer or a heart condition. Nobody ever blames cancer victims for losing the fight. They tried their best to fight off the cancer, sought treatment, did whatever they could, but ultimately failed. It’s not their fault.
But people who commit suicide are also fighting off their disease as best they can, and sometimes they lose. And guess what? It’s not their fault either, not any more than a cancer victim’s.
Last year, suicide barged its way into my life in the most terrible way. I lost my mom to suicide. I phrase it that way specifically for a reason. I don’t like to say she committed suicide or that she killed herself, because that’s not the case. That’s giving her agency she just didn’t have due to her condition. Depression killed her. She was killed by a disease. Her brain was compromised, and she fought it off as best she could for as long as she could. But eventually, depression won.
If there’s one thing I want to emphasize, it’s that depression takes away people’s agency when it comes to matters such as suicide. Healthy people wonder how someone could possibly take their own life—they just don’t understand. That’s because healthy people still have full control of their brain.
Depressed people don’t. Depressed people are battling their own brain everyday, and that battle is brutal. Sometimes people win and the road leads to recovery. Sometimes they don’t, and we lose them to suicide. And that needs to be talked about.
Like mental illness in general, talk about suicide needs to be normalized. Now, I don’t mean normalized as in it should become acceptable or commonplace for people to commit suicide. Rather, it should be a subject that people aren’t afraid to talk about. Suicidal ideation needs to be treated like any other symptom, not something to be admitted to shamefully.
And this is where suicidal humour comes in. It becomes one of the avenues by which the discussion of suicide becomes more acceptable. When you have millennials joking all over the internet and public figures like comedians casually talking about suicide on stages in front of huge crowds, it opens the communication pathway. It says, “We’re comfortable making jokes about suicide, because it’s not as taboo a topic as everyone thinks. It’s not shameful. And we can discuss it now.” If you can joke about it, you can talk about it.
Not to say that someone committing suicide is in any way funny, because it’s absolutely not. The point, rather, is that because we have reached a place in society where we can talk about it in the daylight, out in the open, it is a good start to removing the stigma surrounding suicide.
I am by no means an expert on mental health, and suicide is a sensitive issue. It’s not my intention to offend or upset anyone. But I think it’s important to talk about. To end the stigma. Because if people are more willing to talk about it, and depressed people know that suicidal ideation or thoughts are simply a symptom of their disease, they will be more open to talking about it with counsellors and doctors, and more willing to seek help. Hopefully they won’t feel like it’s their fault, and they will be more open to asking for and accepting help.
Because people fighting depression are in desperate need of that help, and it’s important that steps are taken to making that help easier to access.
Many people are fighting the battle, fighting off the crippling disease that is depression, but if we take action together we can help more of them be victorious. So talk about it. Talk about mental health. Talk about suicide. And never, ever be afraid to ask for help.