27 February 2013

Just joking!

Have you ever seen or heard someone say something along the lines of "I'm going to kill myself, this sucks so bad. Ha ha, just joking!"? I know I have, and it bothers me. Before anyone says "you're being too sensitive" or "lighten up, (s)he is just spouting off.", let me explain why this issue bugs me.

Suicide is no light matter. It's not something to laugh or joke about. It's not funny or humorous. People kill themselves every single day, for a variety of reasons. It's serious. Just how serious is it? Let's take a look at some numbers.

  • According to a link from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), "In 2007, it was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 34,598 deaths. The overall rate was 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide death.". So, in 2007, not only did 34,598 people successfully take their own lives, but doing the math, it's estimated that 380,578 people attempted suicide. *Maybe* some of those 380,578 people now consider it a joking matter, but I find it hard to believe that those 34,598 peoples loved ones consider it something to joke about.
  • The previous NIMH link was statistics from 2007. According to this link from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the number of suicide deaths in 2010 was 38,364, with suicide still sitting at the #10 spot for causes of death. 
  • There aren't any good statistics for suicide related deaths among women with PPD because PPD isn't tracked nearly as closely as it should be in the US. The CDC estimates that am average of 8% of moms end up with PPD, and some of those women are killing themselves. Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress estimates that the number may be more likely to be an average of 20% of women ending up with PPD each year
  • According to this article from the NPR, the number of suicide deaths in the U.S. military in 2012 was 349 (a new record for the military), higher than the number of deaths among Americans who died in combat in Afghanistan in 2012.

The reasons why people kill themselves (or attempt to kill themselves) are varied. Mental illness, terminal illness, difficult situations that leave them feeling helpless and hopeless, and so many more. I've never killed myself (yes, you may call me Captain Obvious) but I was hospitalized twice with suicidal ideations and intrusive thoughts after my first baby was born. There was absolutely nothing funny about it then and I still (almost 4 years later) don't find any humor in people "just joking" about wanting to kill themselves. It's not a laughing matter that people are in that much pain (mental/emotional or physical). It's not a laughing matter that their family and friends have to deal with the pain and anguish of losing a loved one to suicide. There's nothing to laugh about. It's not a lighthearted subject.

Not only is it a serious and painful matter for those who (in whatever capacity) are dealing with suicidal ideations, attempts, or successes, making "jokes" about suicide contributes to the stigma around not only suicide but mental health and seeking help for mental illnesses. When people joke about suicide, it's hard for the people around them to ask for help (who wants to risk being laughed at, dismissed, and possibly be made the butt of a "joke"?). When people joke about suicide, it can be hard to recognize when they're no longer joking (ever heard the story of the boy who cried wolf?). When people joke about suicide, it contributes to the stigma surrounding not just suicide but mental illness in general.

The statistics I included in this post are specific to the United States of America, but the sentiment of "Suicide is not something to joke about" is most certainly not. I personally have friends around the world who have suffered/are currently fighting mental health issues. Except for the statistics, everything I've said here applies to you no matter where you live, no matter where you're from. The fact that suicide is not something to make light of  doesn't change based on location. Please, take it seriously. If you see or hear someone "just joking" about killing themselves, take it seriously. You could save lives.


  1. Hi Esther - Your advocacy work is wonderful to see! I am awed by your strength & tenacity!

  2. I agree. It makes me cringe when people make those comments because most likely they are not people who have been to that dark depressing place. Thank you for shedding light on a subject not many people want to talk about.