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.
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.
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
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
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!
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.