From a Patient: Why Mental Health Is Not a Joke

Updated on January 4, 2019
Ellora Fayette profile image

I've struggled with mental health issues for several years now. Jokes about mental illness are no laughing matter.

Making Light of Mental Health

It has been my experience that people have a tendency to make light of mental health. This is never done in a malicious way, at least not that I have seen for myself, and it usually takes the form of some less-than-favorable jokes and word choice. The two most common examples are “triggered” and cutting jokes, as well as the phrase “kill yourself." Now I understand that people don’t mean anything bad when they say these things; however, I believe that the reason people feel okay making these kinds of jokes is a lack of true understanding of what those words mean to people who struggle with their mental health.

My Own Struggles

While I am not mentally ill in any clinical sense, I have struggled with mental health for several years now. What some people may not know is that I used to self-harm. It started when I was 13, and I didn’t make the decision to quit until April of last year. If someone had told me to kill myself two years ago, no matter how harmless their intentions, I would have taken them seriously—because that was my state of mind at the time. I know for a fact that I am not the only person like that.

Trigger Warnings

Sometimes I wonder if people truly understand the purpose of trigger warnings. Being triggered doesn’t mean that something mildly annoys you. It means that something puts you at risk. Triggered is what happens when someone with PTSD has an episode after being exposed to a smell that makes them flashback to a time they were attacked. Triggered is what happens when someone feels the urge to hurt themselves again after seeing graphic images of self-harm. Trigger warnings are there for the protection of those who would otherwise suffer needlessly without them.

Jokes About Self-Harm

As someone who has had a problem with self-harm, cutting jokes in particular tend to bother me more than others—whether they’re directed at me or not. They bother me, and others like me, because when you’re trying to get better, you don’t want to be reminded of what brings you down. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t surround a recovering alcoholic with alcohol would you? So why put self-harmers in that situation? Because like alcoholism, self-harm is an addiction. It is a destructive behavior that someone people resort to cope with their problems and is difficult to move away from once you’ve started. So hearing people talking about the “correct” way to cut if you want to kill yourself is not exactly healthy for people who are trying to move away from that.

Raising Awareness

Maybe people don’t actually care about that. But I choose to believe that if people actually took a moment to take that into consideration, they would not make the jokes that they do. I choose to believe this because there are plenty of people that I know who say these things, but are good people. I know they are good people, and I refuse to believe that they have harmful intentions. But that does not erase the fact that their words can have an impact when said around the wrong people. I understand that mental health is a difficult subject that can make some people uncomfortable. It is not always obvious who around us may be suffering. But it is that discomfort and that uncertainty that makes it all the more important for us to educate ourselves and each other on mental illness, because you never know how your words or actions may impact others. We don’t make jokes about rape or cancer, so why is mental health any different? Why do people feel okay making a joke about suicide, but not about someone dying from a debilitative disease? It is my firm belief that the reason for this is a lack of awareness and a lack of education on the subject as a whole.

How do you feel about mental health jokes?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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