“Lol imma kms”: Why do High School Students Joke About Suicide?

Movlyne Exantus, Staff Writer

In today’s society teens joke about serious matters more often than not. Everything can be found in a meme, whether it be murder, rape, world crises, or suicide. The concept of suicide in today’s media is one that is forever being discussed in conversations. Whether it’s being glorified or normalized no one truly knows, but one thing that is known is that it’s recurring.

Suicide currently takes the lives of 123 Americans daily. To put this into perspective, it’s as if double the PHA senior class killed themselves, every day. Suicide is a matter that doesn’t restrict itself to certain ages, either. According to an information page on Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages.” Suicide is a complex manner and one of the leading causes is depression.

Depression affects about a quarter of all American adults and only half ever seek help. Alongside causes being of great importance, there’s also the matter of detecting whether or not someone is suicidal. The most common ways of doing this include watching for withdrawal from social contact, mood swings, self destructive behavior, depressive symptoms, and many other out of character changes or behaviors. However, the most simplistic yet commonly overlooked symptom is talking or writing about suicide

To find out why students joke about suicide, I conducted a micro-study on the reasonings behind why students joke about suicide. The study was done on a couple of seniors who attend Prospect Hill Academy Charter School. Below are the responses to the questions that were asked:

 

  1. What are your thoughts on suicide?

“I think that suicide has been talked about a lot more but I feel like people don’t take the signs and symptoms of suicide, the signs as serious but they take suicide that serious. I don’t know. I feel like it’s joked about a lot but I feel like it’s glorified in music. I feel like it’s kinda good because it makes some people feel like they’re not alone for their suicidal thoughts but at the same time I feel like it makes people think it’s ok and normal.” (Student A)

“I have no clue. I have to think about it…I think it’s a very unfortunate solution to some problems that they think suicide is the answer to, so I think people who do commit it just need someone to talk to or treatment rather than committing that life-changing act.” (Student B)

“I think that it’s one of the most serious parts that we kinda do encounter or think about when we are towards the developing stages especially when you are a teenager. And is especially emphasized not only throughout school life but as well as through personal life like issues at home.” (Student C)

“Um it’s just a sad thing that happens to a lot of people and there’s a lot of causes to it, which is kinda sad.” (Student D)

  1. Do you joke about suicide? 

“Yes.” (Student A)

“Unfortunately, yes I do. I do.” (Student B)

“Yeah I feel like this year I’ve joked about it more than last year.” (Student C)

“Yes. This morning I was joking about it, yeah.” (Student D)

  1. Do you hear jokes about suicide?

“Yes everyday.” (Student A)

“I do hear jokes, mostly from my friends, who joke about suicide.” (Student B)

“Yeah on a daily. I mean it’s especially prevalent because we are seniors. Because it’s the thought of going to college in the future and the pressure to be this ready being and knowing who you are and on top of that with school work is very much – it’s stressful and it brings you to a point where you do have to joke about these type of things.” (Student C)

“Yes, ma’am.” (Student D)

  1. Why do you joke about suicide? Why do you think people joke about suicide?

“People joke about suicide because they like to laugh off the issue and they like to see if they have considered suicide themselves. . . they like to avoid [their feelings] in any type of way. A joke is a way that people like to avoid it and humor is a thing that people like to use to avoid serious situations so I think that’s why people joke about suicide and I think to them it makes you like the faking.” (Student A)

“Because I know for me it’s not literal. Because I’m on the internet a lot so usually I’m used to the terms ‘I hate my life’ and it’s like in replacement of that. [I think people joke about it] to be funny, to be dramatic, exaggerate.” (Student B)

“I think it’s probably a coping mechanism because instead of taking the route of attempting it we rather joke about it in a way that kind of allows us to dissociate ourselves from doing the act itself.” (Student C)

“Um, I don’t know. I think it’s just like people started making jokes about it and I laughed. I mean in freshman year they started making them then I just followed the wave. I mean I’m not depressed or anything, I just make the jokes. [I think people joke about suicide] either because they want to be in the trend or they’re actually depressed. There are some people who have issues but instead of healthy coping mechanisms, like finding one of those, they make jokes about it.” (Student D)

  1. What feelings do you associate with suicide? Are these the same feelings you associate with jokes about suicide?

“Sadness. Loneliness . . . Maybe if you’re lonely and then like maybe, I don’t know, you said feelings I don’t really know like feeling words . . . I think you get happiness from [telling jokes about suicide] and then that makes you feel like the sadness that you feel is being suppressed for that moment and it causes you to feel like maybe I’m putting it off, like dusting it off and I’ll deal with it another time” (Student A)

“Depression. Sadness. Yeah. No. No because I never mean it when I joke around about it or say it.”
(Student B)

“Like depression. Stressed. Pressure. Unhappiness. It’s different because you agree with the joke a little bit but I don’t see how it connects.” (Student C)

“Depression. Being anxious, stressed. No. No. [I don’t associate the same feelings with the jokes] because like, it’s a bad joke I admit that, but it’s funny. I feel like it’s just a joke but it’s like a really bad joke.” (Student D)

  1. What do you associate with suicide?

“I feel like it really stems from school and one’s expectations of themselves. Because they are stressed and there are the kids at BU and BC who try and kill themselves off the Charles River.” (Student A)

“That makes sense, I would say school. Um, maybe like home life. Like family. Family problems could be something associated with suicide.” (Student B)

“Unhappiness. Probably like stress especially. Pressure. And yeah.” (Student C)

“School. Um, sometimes church like occasionally. There were people who’ve commited suicide in my church. TV. Hollywood. Celebs” (Student D)

 

Conclusions

Some common threads through these responses were that the topic of suicide is complex and uncomfortable. All of these questions were met with some sort of pause or awkward giggle before or in the midst of a response.

Suicide is a serious issue that affects more and more people everyday. Conversations like the ones I had with these four students help normalize discussion around what is suicidal or what indicates suicidal tendencies. However, major changes are still needed, such as more acknowledgment and consistency of conversations around mental health. People should be able to have relatively easy access to help with mental health and wellness issues. 

We should keep in mind that this is no easy task and that assumptions don’t help anyone, but we should also remember that talking to each other is a good first step. We treat conversation like a trivial task done aimlessly by each and every one of us everyday, but we could be using this powerful method of communication to normalize dialogue around mental health.

Conversations can make all the difference within a community, especially one like PHA. Everyone’s mind works differently and everyone copes with things in their own way. This concept is especially important in the lives of teens in school, since teens are particularly vulnerable to stress from various changes in their lives, whether it be from school, family, or other expectations.