Think Before You Say, 'I'm So Bored I Could Kill Myself'
Here’s a question you’ve probably never asked yourself before: Am I being flippant about suicide?
“None of my friends are around to hang out today, I just want to kill myself.”
“When he didn’t text back I totally had a panic attack!”
“I’m so depressed. This class is so dull, I just want to cut myself…”
Any of these sound familiar? I think at some point we have all said something similar. In fact, I hold my hand up as guilty. But do we really realize exactly what we are saying? Let’s take a look at these.
“Your hair looks like you have cancer.”
“I didn’t want to get up today, I was like totally paraplegic.”
“Two periods of math class is like having chemotherapy!”
So what makes other major health condition comparisons offensive and mental health comparisons OK? Point is, neither are acceptable. Mental health is a legitimate illness. True, pretty much anything you say will offend someone somewhere; this isn’t about squashing the freedom to express yourself. The point is just taking a moment to realize that if you do use phrases associated with mental health in a flippant way, chances are you’re hurting a lot more people than you may realize.
Why is it offensive? Using a diagnosable clinical condition as an exaggeration of an everyday feeling trivializes the word and gives it less integrity. In other words, the more you use it flippantly, the less serious it becomes. As a result, everyone has their own meanings and links attached to words such as “depressed” or “suicidal,” often times nothing close to accurate to describing the genuine condition. Consequently an appearance of a genuine case of depression, for example, is taken with a pinch of salt. This can be terribly frustrating for the one suffering from the condition and in some cases can even make their disease worse. Some can ultimately start doubting the legitimacy of their own illness. Language is an extremely powerful tool, and often people are unaware of its impact on physical and mental outcomes.
In some more extreme cases, a flippant comment can be turned into a triggering experience for an individual. According to pyschcentral.com, a trigger is “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback.” Triggers are more commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder but can actually be applied to anybody with a mental health condition.
When I was a teenager I was at a local music gig and a band came on and started to play a rather somber song. A friend of mine started to sway along in time to the first verse and repeated the words “Cut yourself, cut yourself!” Many people around her laughed at the joke. But looking back, it was a terrible thing for her to say. Someone trying to stop self-harming, for example, can be triggered easily by the mere mention of it, let alone a comedic jape towards the act. The Internet in particular is a cesspool for this kind of language; you need only glance at the comment section on YouTube to read some pretty horrendous things. The same goes for people considering suicide. Turning their struggles into a joke both offends and trivializes a terrible experience. As a result, the person suffering often is less likely to open up about their pain.
But when someone utters a phrase similar to those mentioned at the start, remember not to judge them too harshly. Chances are they have no idea of the impact of what they are saying. This is because most of the time they are oblivious to how their language can affect people with mental illnesses. Most of the time, it’s not that they’re being malicious, it’s just they simply don’t understand. Of course there are some exceptions to this rule, but I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt!
When phrases like those are used, those who do know better should not feel obligated to let the comments wash over and dismiss that person as an a**hole. Educate them. Let them know why what they said was offensive. Mental illness is often invisible, there’s no neon flashing arrow saying “I have depression,” so people tend not to hold back on flippant statements. This is why it’s even more critical to interject offhand comments from unaware individuals. Most will probably thank you in the long run for being honest and letting them know their comment wasn’t well-received.
So next time you’re in a dreadfully boring class or meeting and feel like expressing just how “depressed” this makes you feel or want to let everyone know how the new Coldplay song just makes you want to cut yourself, please stop. Consider that at least one in four of the people sitting with you will have clinical depression within the next few years of their life. Don’t make it less valid for them.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.