Before getting to my post today, I have some wonderful news. As of last week, I am now on the Board of Directors for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Washington State Chapter. I’ve been a volunteer for the organization on the media team for quite some time and also recently become Chair of that committee. Being on the Board is sure to a hard yet rewarding experience, and I’m honored these passionate advocates would have faith in me to join them.
This post was inspired by a recent post by my fellow suicide prevention advocate Erin of the blog 4 The Love of Evan, in honor of her brother Evan who died by suicide in 2010. Thank you for Erin for all that you do.
From 9:41am to 12:48pm PST on January 29th, 422 tweets mentioned the words “kill myself” on Twitter, mostly in joking terms like the person was super bored, or got an annoying song stuck in his or her head, or sat through a really dumb TV show. And that doesn’t even include the number of people who hashtag #killmyself on Twitter. AND a quick hashtag search of #killmyself on Instragram yielded 38,746 posts. Google+ doesn’t tell you the number of posts for a search, but I found a ton there too.
And don’t get me started about Pinterest.
Apparently somewhat less popular, from 11:48pm to 2:53pm PST, 61 tweets mentioned the word “blow my brains out,” also in the same joking manner. Maybe because they hate being in math class, or because they don’t want to do their homework, or they hear a song they really despise.
I’ve talked a bit before about how language matters when it comes to mental health stigma and how the media can help with the words they choose when reporting. But what about everyday people? The trash talk? The jokes? Its absolutely staggering how often it happens, and its just. not. funny.
I would never deny that I probably said one of these things before I knew any better. Before I lost loved ones. And before I had my own struggles with suicidal thoughts. I think a lot of people have said these kinds of things at one point or another, which is why I want to talk about it. Why I wanted to share my own thoughts, thoughts from a person who has experienced suicide loss AND has been suicidal.
For one, when I hear someone say “I just want to kill myself” as a joke, it stabs me in the heart. It makes me immediately think of my own loss, my own grief. Not that the grief ever truly goes away, but shocking reminders do me (or anyone) no good.
And two, imagine someone around you is struggling with thoughts of suicide and they hear a flippant comment from someone they know and love. Do you really think that hurting person will reach out to their friend? No, they won’t. They are not encouraged to seek help by jokes.
I find it so so sad that these jokes happen at such alarming rates, especially with teens. The sheer numbers of tweets I saw from school age kids was incredible. And you might be thinking, “But that’s just Twitter (or X social media). People will say anything online.” And yes that might be true, but social media is a pervasive part of our culture. It IS a snapshot of what people think. And I’m sure that many of you have in fact heard these phrases in person as well.
Starting today, if you hear these, I encourage you (and I’m encouraging myself too) to say “That’s just not funny.” I also encourage all of us to teach our kids that this language is NOT OK. I think talking about it with your kids can do a world of good. It might just make them more likely to talk to you if they have suicidal feelings of their own. They also migh be more aware and supportive if their friends are struggling.
Let’s make a pact. Fight the stigma. Stop the jokes.
Joking about suicide is SO not funny.
If you or someone you love is struggling, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or get more information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at AFSP.org.