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Joking about wanting to die silences those actually looking for help.

It’s another late night at the library. There’s a group of people sitting at a table to the right. There’s four of them, surrounded by books, papers and a laptop for each of them. They’ve been joking around the whole night, laughing and going over notes with each other. At one point, they begin to bond over the stress they’re feeling about the upcoming weeks with finals just around the corner. 

“I can’t believe how much I have to do,” one says. “I just want to kill myself.”

Although the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts is most common in those between 18 and 29, according to Save, no one asks if they’re okay. No one asks if they want to talk about it; no one offers help. Instead, they all laugh, mutually agreeing that death must be their best option. 

“I know, right?” they say to each other.

The truth is that they don’t know. For someone who lives with suicidal thoughts, their pain doesn’t just stem from exam stress. They feel like they truly have no other options but to end their life. It’ circulates around feelings of hopelessness, desperation, and separation from one’s own body, according to Mind. It settles in a place within them that makes their lives unbearable. 

Maybe the jokes stemmed from meme culture. Between social networking apps such as Twitter and Facebook, countless popular trends and reaction posts sit on mass amounts of users’ timelines per day. This allows many outlets and groups of people to come together and bond over funny texts, including texts like death jokes that may be inconsiderate to others.

Maybe it came from people’s general sense of humor. Some people may lean toward laughter as a way to cope with what they’re feeling, according to Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Either way, the memes that go viral and the jokes that disrespectfully invite laughter don’t make it excusable to casually laugh about wanting to die.

One of the main reasons these types of jokes should stop is because they desensitize people to the seriousness of the statement. After hearing someone casually say “I want to die” in a sentence so many times, it starts to lack meaning, losing its overall seriousness. It’s like repeating a word over and over until it doesn’t sound like a word anymore.

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This diminished impact makes it difficult to understand if the person threatening their own life means it or not. The natural response when hearing something like this becomes laughter and maybe even a “me too.” A response like this could hurt someone who’s being serious about the way they’re feeling. Someone’s cry for help could be swept under the rug because it wasn’t taken seriously.

It’s important to know the right steps to help someone who’s truly contemplating suicide. Some of these steps include being there if they need to talk, regularly checking in on them or alerting their family and friends that something is wrong. Even if it’s unclear if they mean it or not, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

For those between ages 10-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. To the family and friends of those people, it was never a joke. It was real, and it took the life of someone who felt the world would be better without them. However, the world would be better with them here today. It would be even better if “wanting to die” wasn’t a “funny” way to express stress. 

Joanna Sommer is a sophomore media arts and design major. Contact her at sommerjj@dukes.jmu.edu.