Opinion Piece: Joking About Your Mental Health Can Be a Bad Coping Mechanism for Mental Illness.

To preface this blog post: this is not an attack on you if you do use humour of this variety as a coping mechanism. I’m not saying you’re wrong to do so, but simply that, in my personal experiences, it has had only a negative impact on me. This is, in its entirety, just my own opinion.

If humour helps you, that’s completely okay. I’m glad you found a way to help yourself that works for you.

So… why did I start to use humour as a coping mechanism?

It all started in High School – a dreadful era in everyone’s life, I know.

A friend of mine had developed depression, and the only way he knew to cope with it was to make endless suicide jokes. But it didn’t end with the ‘haha kill me’ jokes. He and my closest-friend-of-the-time would pretend to hang themselves on the corner of streets.

This made me incredibly uncomfortable, so I told my wholeheartedly-trusted-friend-of-the-time and asked him to stop when around me as it made my own suicidal thoughts worse.

And he made me feel guilty for it.

He guilted me to believe I was an awful person, and that if I said our friend shouldn’t fake-hang himself on street corners to cope with his depression that I was wishing death upon him, because it was exactly that: his coping mechanism.

I didn’t want to be responsible for someone’s death (duh) so… I joined in. I started to disguise my problems with humour.

“I could do with a shot of bleach right now.” 

“Give me the sweet, sweet, release of death.” 

[Sees dead bird in the street] “Haha, same.”

Hiding behind humour didn’t help me. I just grew to ignore my illness – and mental illness should not be ignored. Not to mention, suicidal jokes became a Trend, with a capital ‘T’. People who, to the best of my knowledge (and some of whom I am still very close to today) didn’t suffer from mental illness began to make these jokes, which is one of the main issues I have with humour as a coping mechanism. It becomes ‘trendy’. It normalises it. It dilutes the severity of the illness.

It’s a similar occurrence with meme culture. Although it could be seen that these memes make us feel less alone (seen below), again, they make it almost popular to be mentally ill.

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The last thing we as a society need to do is lessen the brutality of mental illness. Particularly suicidal thoughts.

‘I think it’s helpful, but I think if you rely solely on it then you can start to forget the importance of things in the world as everything just becomes another coping mechanism.’ -Jian Li

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When writing this piece, I asked a number of people about their opinion on the matter. One person said:

‘It’s also a form of a cry for help, like it’s easy to see a bottle get run over in the middle of the road when you’re with your mates and say, “Same,” than it is to outright tell them your suicidal.’ – E. C.

This, I understand. It’s terrifying to tell someone how you feel. You don’t want someone to glare uncomfortably at you, so you throw a joke in there to ease the tension and to give yourself control. Nothing can go wrong if you’re laughing, right?

But, in my opinion, this is exactly why ‘humour’ of this variety has a negative impact on us. We have grown so dependent on it that we can’t express our emotions in a constructive way. We can’t tell people how we actually feel because people will be shocked it’s honest, and not a joke. We can’t tell people how we actually feel because people will feel uncomfortable that it’s honest, and not a joke. We can’t tell people how we actually feel, because we’ve taught ourselves not to.

‘I literally end every emotional rants […] with, “Thank you for attending my TED Talk,” because I can’t take my own feelings seriously even in times of crisis.’ – Sahra

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But just because I think it’s wrong doesn’t mean I’m going to stop altogether – not so easily anyway. I’m a hypocrite. I have made a conscious effort to cut down the amount of self-deprecating jokes I make about myself, and I have felt better about how I’ve dealt with my mental illness since. I figured out the root causes of my illness’ and have thus been able to figure out how to deal with my problems, how to avoid them, and how to make myself feel better. (Side note: this obviously isn’t a result of making less suicidal jokes, but I recently celebrated a year of being suicidal-thoughts free! Woo!)  

I do still make some jokes – of course I do. I’ll never be perfect. There’s no such thing. I just… really like to point out my flaws.

Of course, it’s not black and white. It’s not one way or the other.  My opinion isn’t fact, and opinions depend on each person, how they work, and their life experiences. As seen by the Twitter Poll below, I was hugely disagreed with for my view on this topic, and that’s okay!

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Feel free to drop your own opinion in the comments. Let’s discuss!

Confession: I found this article particularly difficult to write. What if I offended someone? What if it made people hate me? And I, the filthy hypocrite that I am, proceeded to use humour to make myself feel ‘better’ about it all. And then I had an existential crisis because it only buried my emotions.

7 Comments on “Opinion Piece: Joking About Your Mental Health Can Be a Bad Coping Mechanism for Mental Illness.

  1. Although I feel differently about this, you make a convincing argument and I can see why making jokes could affect society as a whole. Perhaps those who cope with jokes should only do it in situations where they know others won’t be affected.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it took quite a lot of guts to write this piece, and I applaud you for that. I also commend you for knowing that, for you, joking about mental illness does more harm than good. I do believe we are all different, and I absolutely, completely agree with your thoughts on how the jokes and memes have normalized mental illness, and, to a point, add to the stigma, while also making it look like “no big deal” or “everyone feels that way sometimes” So I agree with much of what you say. And I think it is very important to know our own triggers, as well as what is, and is not okay for ourselves.
    That being said, my daughter and I use a lot of humor. Mostly between the two of us, though. Maybe to her very closest friends, but we’ve been through so much together and my daughter is a snarky, sarcastic, witty person anyway…so sometimes, in the midst of anguish, when we both feel like falling apart, a well timed joke – even about her mental state, can make us both stop, take a breath and even laugh a little. We would never trivialize anyone’s struggle, and we would never want others to feel uncomfortable – it’s just what we use among ourselves sometimes to help us through a rough moment.
    I also tend to tell her when I think she is joking too much – because it is a sign to me that she is going through a particularly difficult time. I guess in a way it’s even become a code for us.
    I loved this piece because it talks about something that I rarely see mentioned elsewhere and I think the topic is an important one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with the logic that humour as a coping mechanism is wrong, in the example you gave: my posts may make light of mental health from a certain perspective but I would never say them aloud or fake hang myself, and I always try to find a positive edge when writing of depression as I see it not as a death sentence but a different angle on life

    Humour is like culinary taste, you like spicy but others don’t so you offer others a cool option better fitting theres and when you find someone with a love of spicy; enjoy sharing the ghost peppers!

    And like all things can go too far, as when you are drinking pepper water because your taste buds are so dead through exposure… WARNING!

    Conclusion (because although this is the kind of conversation I can only have with therapists or my mum and love honest approaches to issues like this); it’s about balance and respect for others, don’t force upon a happy merry type sucicidal jokes and dark humour, all you get is ‘conversations’ with the boss about “you have a highly developed sense of humour but..” and if anyone takes offence, as long as it is respectful and honest then respect thier view

    Grade A article and I only wish people like you were in the real world so I could have a decent conversations and not feel so isolated for been different, but then again what would the rope, razor blade and sleeping pill industries be without folks like me!! (Apologies, it slipped out)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your response! I remember this being a difficult article for me to write, so thank you. Feel free to reach out to me anytime. 🙂

      Like

      • I’ll retreat to dark corner now and let you be, if I ever offend in future then a recomend a polite litary slap

        Never be afraid to be offended
        Just don’t say what you’re really thinking in full detail
        Not everyone is an anti-social type or able to see the funny side of insults, and it’s only mildly worrying if you are!!

        Like

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