Mental Illnesses Aren’t Jokes

Mental Illnesses Aren’t Jokes

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


Around 1 in 5 teens (13-18) in the US struggle with mental disorders during their lifetime. That number is much higher than for any other age demographic. To put that number in perspective, picture five of your friends,

it is likely that at least one of them is struggling with mental health issues that you might not even know about. Because of stigmas surrounding mental health, many choose not to reveal their struggles, for fears of discrimination, being seen as weak, and many other reasons. However, whether people are open or private about any mental issues they are facing, they should always be treated with acceptance, and given any help they need, similarly to how individuals with physical disabilities would be given. It is important to destroy the stigma that mental illnesses are “dangerous” or “weird,” and instead view them as valid behaviors that vary from the norm, and should still be both appreciated and accommodated.

Learn more about mental illnesses, and the breaking of the stigmas from this TED talk by Ruby Wax, an individual who personally struggles with mental health.


As a high school student, I hear many of my classmates make comments like “the line is so long I’m going to commit [suicide],” “that movie gave me depression, it was so sad,” or “I’m so OCD about keeping my markers in order,” making light of the struggles many with mental illnesses face every day, by comparing thoughts of ending one’s life and serious mental health issues to trivial daily inconveniences. I have always thought of those comments as wrong, but I never knew the magnitude of people with personal experience with mental health conditions. With so many individuals afflicted by mental health disorders, it is extremely likely that each insensitive comment is heard by someone who is struggling with the illness that was just made fun of. This, typically unintentional, perpetuating of mental health stigmas contributes to the isolating feeling many teenagers feel, especially during mental health struggles. It is so important that these comments are recognized as problematic, and that everyone is committed to making a change.

I talked to people in the lower, middle, and upper school divisions at my school to ask how this issue appears comparatively. A lower school teacher shares that the kids will occasionally make comments like “he’s so crazy,” or “I’m so mad, I might blow up the school,” but they are not aware of the connotations of those statements. With kids that young, it is important for teachers, family, and other older people they interact with to not use that type of language, and to gently correct them whenever they make those types of comments. My middle school brother says students will occasionally say things like “I have so much work, I’m going to kill myself.” I think for middle schoolers, those instances should be used as learning opportunities, and any adults or older people who hear those comments should educate them to the deeper meaning behind their “joke,” in order to help them understand why it is harmful to say things like that. From my own perspective in high school, as well as stories from my classmates, I think these comments are probably most prevalent in high school, when we know these comments are wrong, but still make them in an attempt to be funny. The best way to combat these not funny jokes is for all listeners to not react to any jokes making light of mental illnesses, and to tell whoever said it that it was not funny. If a whole community agrees to stop each other from making these comments, they will soon be gone. 

Graduated college student Paige Woiner shares her story in an article from Elite Daily. She says she overheard a fellow student say “I have so much homework…I want to kill myself,” while on a bus back to her dorm room. That phrase stayed in her head as she went about the rest of the day. Paige, who nearly lost a family member to suicide, says that after the suicide attempt, she was very aware of comments she and others made making light of suicide. She wants everyone to think of the “all too real pain” felt by the individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts and their families, and to “think about it before we say it,” because a hyperbolic “joke” is nowhere near as important as the struggles felt by those individuals.


It is so simple for all of us to decide to stop making comments using mental illnesses as jokes. In the infographic are some easy replacements to use in every day language that will not trigger anyone.

Try to implement the language in the right column into your vernacular, while eliminating all of those on the left.



I want all of you to think of one way you can help with this cause. Whether it is changing your own language surrounding this issue, or respectfully calling out others around you – find some way to hold yourself accountable for any comments you make or hear.

I have already gotten rid of all of these comments from my language, and my next step is to start holding others accountable. I am generally pretty quiet and non-confrontational, but I have shifted my thinking to educating others, not confronting them. I will use the information I have learned from this project, and especially from the above infographic, and share it with others in my community through personal conversations, and possibly through a short presentation with the other upperclassmen from my school taking abnormal psychology.

Thank you for taking the time to explore my presentation!


Works Cited
“168,576 High School Students Stock Photos, Vectors, and Illustrations Are Available Royalty-Free. Find the Perfect Student, High School Stock Images for Your Projects, or Go Deeper and Click into Related Topics below.” High School Students Stock Images, Royalty-Free Images & Vectors | Shutterstock, school students.
Friedman, Michael. “The Stigma of Mental Illness Is Making Us Sicker.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 13 May 2014,
“Home.” NoStigmas – Mental Health Support Community,
Kessler, Ronald C., et al. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2007,
“NAMI.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness,
Woiner, Paige. “Why You Should Stop Saying ‘I Want To Die’ In Times Of Stress.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 19 Apr. 2018,
Share this project
  1. April 26, 2018 by Ella.Durbin

    I really like the topic you picked! I have a lot of passion for people understanding the importance of this topic because mental illnesses are definitely something that should and needs to be taken more seriously. It’s interesting because while I refrain and am aware of how jokes about mental illnesses are super disrespectful to people who actually deal with them, I find myself occasionally making jokes or comments that aren’t ok. It’s strange how saying things like this is basically part of the millennials language and that needs to change. I applaud you for asking people to think about what they say and encouraging them to change it.

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Thank you for commenting Ella! It is hard to change the way you speak about certain things, but the first step is to acknowledge the issue!

  2. April 26, 2018 by Rikako.Kent


    Great presentation that shed light on the implications of the everyday things we say. As teenagers, it has become the norm to be somewhat cynical and say certain phrases, unknowingly or not, that shouldn’t ever be said. Even if it is as a joke, casually dropping the words “I want to die” or “kill yourself” is really not okay and could be triggering the people around you. I also cannot fully say that I’ve never said something along those lines in times of stress, anger, etc. but your presentation made me realize the magnitude of the things we say. Thank you for raising awareness to this issue.

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Rikako, thanks for commenting! I have also made comments like that, and it is important for all of us to hold each other accountable.

  3. April 27, 2018 by Anna Demopulos

    One would think that this isn’t a problem, but it really is and I’m glad that you chose this topic. Having two younger brothers, I know that the line between funny and hurtful isn’t always clear to everyone. Mental illness is not a laughing matter, and turning it into a joke is only worsening the general outlook on mental illness. We must rally in support of those struggling with mental illness, not shame or laugh at them. Great job!

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Anna, thanks for commenting. It is definitely important to stop making jokes about mental illnesses, and even more important to support individuals struggling with them – great point!

  4. April 28, 2018 by Trinity.Rollins

    This is an issue that I’ve had on my mind for a long time, and sometimes it can feel like there is no way to change it. I really like how your solution was to start small with yourself and then try to hold others accountable too. Your challenges section was very well researched and written, and I really liked the chart you have for alternative phrases which could be used. Good work!

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Trinity, thank you for commenting! Feel free to print out the chart or share it with others.

  5. April 29, 2018 by Rory Smith

    Summer, I have loved seeing your presentation develop over the past two weeks and the final result is one that is comprehensive and engaging. This real issue is one that has permeated my school as well, and has been something that I’ve noticed in many environments as I have grown up. When teenagers say these things, it can seem okay in the short-term, but most people do not realize the implications of their words. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue – I wish you luck in spreading it to your school and beyond. Nice work!

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Rory, thanks for all of your help with this project! I have already noticed a slight difference in the frequency of these comments within my conversations with friends.

  6. April 29, 2018 by Marcus.Jackson

    Amazing presentation. This one is definitely one of my favorites because of the importance of it and how unique it is. Jokes about mental health are somewhat a piece of the fabric of our American society. This project screams, “MENTAL HEALTH IS NOT A JOKE”, and I love it. Overall, great job Summer.

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Thanks for commenting, Marcus. It is so important that everyone realizes mental illnesses are a significant challenge many people face, and not jokes.

  7. April 29, 2018 by Ayesha.Baweja

    This is a topic that I am also very passionate about and it is something often overlooked. This is an issue that permeates all of our lives and it is very easy to replace words that make fun of mental health with other words that are not as offensive. Great presentation!

    • April 29, 2018 by Summer

      Ayesha, thank you for your comment. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to come up with many replacement words in my chart. If it’s so easy to not use mental illnesses as jokes, we should all be able to do so!

  8. April 30, 2018 by Nicole Hsing

    Hi Summer,

    I think this is such a great topic to pick, especially with the dark humor teenagers use countlessly throughout their daily lives. To me, it seems to have gone to far and I agree that we need to stop comparing serious mental health issues with problems in our everyday life, even more so if we do not struggle with mental health issues ourself. I think the infographic towards the end of your presentation was incredibly powerful, and gave really great suggestions of things to say in place of making fun of depression. Great job!

    • April 30, 2018 by Summer

      Hi Nicole – thanks for commenting! I agree that it seems like these “jokes” have escalated and gotten more frequent recently, making them more prevalent, and therefore more important to stop.

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