As a whole, over the past decade mental ill health has been on the rise – especially in young people who seem to carry the statistics quite alarmingly. After briefly flicking through some websites filled with facts and figures, it was relatively easy for me to spot the increasing trend in young people, typically students, being affected by mental health conditions.
However, personally, the stats are not what worry me the most. It is the attitudes of those who surround me on a day to day basis that concern me; the phrases they commonly use; the way in which they speak to and about others; how they act on social media – the list goes on.
As a 15 year old student myself, I am permanently surrounded in the thick of teenage issues, hearing phrases such as “I’m going to kill myself”, “this makes me want to die” and “I hate my life”, frighteningly frequently. I’ve seen students make Snapchat private stories with titles such as ‘my depression’ where they post regular life updates. Despite this, I’ve never encountered one student who has said these terrible things and actually carried out a suicide, or opened up to having a serious mental health issue simply because of a piece of maths homework they didn’t want to do. One may then choose to consider these statements a joke, a bit of ‘banter’ between friends – but I personally don’t believe that it can be regarded as so. A joke that is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. A joke that claims on average 16 lives every day in the UK. A joke that negatively impacts a sixth of the UK’s population aged 16-65 at any one time. To many reading this now, it will seem incomprehensible as to why teens could ever consider this nationwide crisis a joke… and this is a valid question. Why do modern day teens make casual puns about suicide and other serious mental health issues, and how does this affect mental ill health as a whole?
What I believe to be the key cause of ‘mental health humour’ is the overall lack of education on the matter. Throughout the seemingly hundreds of mental health talks at school I’ve had to attend, never once has our own vulgar vocabulary as a group been mentioned to me. I’ve never been taught that certain phrases like “I want to kill myself” actually carry extreme weight, nor have I ever been warned of the dangers of watering down the reputation of mental conditions. All I’ve ever heard is the ‘nicey nicey’ aspects of mental health like ‘you can talk to us’, ‘love yourself’, ‘you are not alone’, etc etc. No wonder our nation’s teens are making jokes. There are no clearly laid out consequences to mental health humour – we’ve never been told that our attitudes alone may be heavily contributing to the rise in mental ill health, simply mollycoddled and told that that everything is ok. It is not ok.
When we degrade serious conditions that ruin lives every day into jokes, we degrade the whole image of mental health. This then degrades every single person who has ever struggled with a serious mental condition and furthermore, it prevents others from seeking potentially life-saving help. Not only are we making a mockery of people’s pasts, we are also ensuring the destruction of other’s futures. There’s a reason why men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women – it is a proven fact that in general they find it far harder to talk about their feelings. This is proof that feeling unable to speak about mental ill health is the biggest cause of it. So why is it so hard to talk about? It sounds simple enough doesn’t it, just opening your mouth and letting your thoughts come out. It sounds simple because it should be simple, we should be able to speak freely and easily about whatever concerns us, but the reason we can’t is because of the brick wall mental health humour has built around us. It has made a mockery of illness and made the victims of illness too afraid to speak up – self-harmers conceal their scars in shame, while those suffering from anxiety or depression hide away from society and their loved ones for fear of rejection. This is sadly because of the casual language being thrown round by teens today. Victims feel silly instead of supported because suicidal thoughts have become the latest gag.
Overall, I think that the most important issue of the decade that has received nowhere near enough attention is teenager’s attitudes towards mental health because of the knock on effect that their words have on mental health’s image as a whole. When one joke is made, another follows and they have done so uncontrollably for years now, causing the rise in mental health humour and consequently the universal rise in mental health conditions. When looking to treat mental illness, instead of focusing on the ‘nicey nicey’ aspects as previously mentioned, I believe a harsher approach far closer to home is required. Teenagers must be told that mocking mental health is never ok, because the teenagers of the 2010s are the adults of the 2020s and this spiteful attitude is swamping our planet untreated one generation at a time. The years of denial that teenagers have been severely negatively impacting mental health must end before mental ill health itself can end. We must stop making a mockery of a murderer – it’s not funny anymore.