When I scroll through my social media feeds, whether it’s Instagram or Twitter, I often see an eclectic mix of content: Vacation pictures, birthday shout-outs, news updates and … memes about suicidal thoughts and depression.
To stay up to date on of meme culture, one must follow some rather offbeat accounts. Initially, it was on those relatively small accounts where I first noticed people posting about suicidal thoughts and mental illness, but now, pretty much everyone does it. (Some accounts have even glorified depression in some pretty twisted way, but that’s another topic.)
While it once seemed sort of taboo to joke about suicide, these jokes have become very common, even sort of run-of-the-mill. If someone doesn’t do well on a test, they might quip about hopping in front of a moving car. If someone has to do all of the work in a group project, they might laugh about jumping off Beckman Hall’s roof. As I write that, I know it doesn’t sound funny, but in the moment, everyone chuckles.
Often, when these kinds of memes appear on my feed, I double tap the pictures and like the tweets. Even though I find them funny, I know I don’t have thoughts of suicide in my head. But I can’t say that’s true for the other hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of people who also like the posts.
Instagram and Twitter both show if someone you follow has liked a certain post. Usually when I see that a friend has liked a sad meme, I brush it off. But sometimes I get worried. I wonder if maybe I should reach out, but I never have, because I’m liking the same memes and for some reason, that makes the content OK to me. Not all of these jokes are funny – some of them are pretty concerning.
Why have jokes about wanting to be dead become the new norm? To me, it seems like joking about suicide has turned into our generation’s version of the “My wife is annoying” bit. Like with 1970s comedians complaining about their significant others, most of these memes aren’t meant to be taken seriously. No one is really going throw themselves in front of a bus if their cute classmate can’t go to formal with them. But is that really something to joke about?
About two years ago, I made a joke about hanging myself to a friend of mine who had attempted suicide. The moment I said it, I regretted it. My friend laughed and didn’t say anything about it, but I knew his struggle with suicidal thoughts was something that was told to me in confidence. Because these kinds of jokes have become so common, saying that meant nothing to me until I realized what I had done.
Ever since then, I have remembered to pay attention to who is around and to watch what I say more carefully when making jokes. On the internet, though, it is much harder to tailor your jokes to the audience because the audience is essentially anyone with Wi-Fi.
Many of the Instagram accounts that post this content are private, but it’s not like they do any kind of background check on their followers’ mental health history before accepting the follow request. And, honestly, it’s not like they actually care.
My main issue with this is that even though these jokes sometimes bother me, I find a lot of them funny. I don’t know why, but I do. Maybe that means I’m a bad person. Maybe it just means that I have a twisted sense of humor.
Knowing how suicide negatively impacts so many people, I wish I didn’t laugh when I see these memes. I know I’m not the only one who does, but that doesn’t make me feel much better about it.
All I know is that this kind of humor doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon – so before you make a joke, think about who you’re telling it to.