Anxiety and depression are issues that plague today’s teenagers more than in any other recent generation. According to the Child Mind Institute, 31.9% of students meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and 14.3% of teenagers are affected by depression and bipolar disorder. Modern teenagers have taken to a new type of joking as a “coping mechanism.” It’s just casually saying that they want to die. All the time.
For clarity’s sake, suicide jokes and self-deprecating humor are different. They have a similar basis in negative self-image, but self-deprecation is broader. A lot of times, especially in professional comedy bits, self-deprecation is about being generally bad at something, like driving or small talk. Comedian Brian Regan’s bit about an elementary school spelling bee is decent self-deprecation since it’s all about how stupid he appeared in school because he was bad at spelling.
Even these kinds of jokes can be pretty damaging, but not nearly as much as the other popular kind of self-deprecation: calling yourself “trash.” That’s where it gets ugly. And for some reason, the descriptor is always “trash,” and it’s so uncreative and repetitive and I hate hearing it. It’s constant. This might just be a weird idea, but maybe calling yourself trash makes you feel… bad? Food for thought.
The most common excuse for negative jokes is that they’re a “coping mechanism” and that they’re just jokes. Thing is, that’s not really how it works. No matter whether or not you’re getting emotions out or whatever you justify it with, it’s still negative and it still makes you feel bad about yourself. People all over the internet have shared personal anecdotes about how their first step on the road to recovery was to stop telling themselves negative things. Even if they’re just jokes, the practice introduces dark thoughts in a person’s head that will cement themselves if they keep getting reinforced. So maybe if you stop telling yourself that you want to die all the time, maybe you won’t feel like you want to die all the time. Not to say that simply cutting out suicide jokes will end someone’s anxiety or depression, but at least it won’t exacerbate it.
Suicidal thoughts, in general, should be taken seriously. People who feel buried should get help, but if they’re constantly saying “I’m gonna go kill myself lmao,” none of their friends are going to believe it. Even if they mean it, and they’re not just joking, it’s not going to seem serious, and it probably won’t get the response they want.
As for telling suicide jokes for comedic reasons, they’re not that funny. They’re as overused, cheap, and juvenile as “that’s what she said” or “your mama.” It’s been heard before. So many times. If it’s timed perfectly… maybe.
Like with all other overused jokes, in specific circumstances, edgy jokes can be funny. Still, a couple of cardinal comedy rules should be kept in mind. You need to know your audience so that you don’t tell suicide jokes at your group therapy session or to the first-graders you babysit. Even when you’re in class or around adults, rethink the joke you’re about to tell; edgy jokes might be common with teenagers, but adults take them seriously and they’re not appropriate. (Plus, it’s super awkward to have your teacher keep you after class to ask if you’re okay. I’ve had it happen before. Would not recommend.)
The frequency of jokes is also vitally important. I can’t stress this enough, don’t say them all the time. Any joke said over and over again loses its impact. Whether for actual mental health reasons or comedy reasons, telling self-deprecating jokes or suicide jokes constantly is bad and annoying and it comes off more as petty attention-seeking than an actual joke. Whatever the intention, that’s what it appears to be. It’s frustrating to be told to just be positive because, of course, it won’t solve everything and, of course, it isn’t that simple, but sometimes, it’s the only place to start. Maybe every time you feel like saying “I want to die,” instead say “I want to take a nap.” The sentiment is similar, but the meaning and the effect on yourself is so much better. For your own sake, consider cutting out these kinds of jokes. At the very least, lower the frequency of them. It’s better for your own mental health, and for everyone else’s ears.