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!