It’s probably day 467 of the pandemic. With every day almost the same as the previous one, I lay down on my bed only to start scrolling on Instagram a second later. With my phone in one hand and my coffee in the other, I was scrolling through the reels’ section when a notification popped up, that said, “Bro, I really don’t have anything to wear to that concert I’m going to. I’m literally going to kill myself”. To be honest, all my friend did was give me some food for thought.

Let me explain. A day earlier, another friend of mine had approached me and had confided in me. She had constantly been having suicidal thoughts and I could see the fear in her eyes to say it out loud because she thought it would only make it sound more real.

This exact moment makes me want to desperately try to understand what draws the line between these two people, the first who uses suicide as a joke which has turned mental health into a “trend,” one where if you can’t relate, then you’re the odd one out; and the second who fears her own mind enough to stay up every night, convincing herself that she is worthy of something as simple as living. And amidst this chain of thoughts, I’ve figured at least one thing out, the distinction between what humor is acceptable and what isn’t, or between who should be speaking to these experiences and who shouldn’t.

In today’s world, mental health has been desensitized and has become an apparent source of ‘dark humor’ to such an extent that those who really struggle with a disturbed mind have been compelled to believe that their experiences are normal and to most teenagers, ‘relatable’. We also often view teenagers use such jokes to cope with their own mental health issues by putting them across in a humorous way which helps them avoid any real conversation. The idea of seeking proper help may either seem too awkward to them or does not apply to them at all, considering the stigma around mental health in such a huge chunk of our society. This normalization isn’t going to urge teens to actually seek out professional guidance, and potentially leads them not to.

And this, isn’t the story of just one day in my life. I know somebody who always says that if they were an actor, they would be paid double the money to play the role of someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, because they can master the ‘art’ of being bipolar so well. I know somebody who constantly reminds one of my friends to believe that they have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) just because they like to keep their space clean and their work neat and tidy. Not only is such behavior unacceptable at all costs but also very harmful to those doing their absolute best to survive in this world. This also has the power to trigger many who are the real survivors of such mental illnesses as such behavior may lead to them feeling invalidated. Invalidation sends the message that a person’s subjective emotional experience is inaccurate, insignificant, and/or unacceptable. It can also make someone who’s struggling doubt whether their affliction is really “that big of a deal.” On the other hand, when such jokes attract such high rates of relatability, one might invalidate their own experiences and not pursue the help that they require.

As rightly said, we never know what someone is going through. All we have to do is to be kind, that’s it and it’s as simple as that. Please stop using terms without being well aware of their meaning and implications. Stop asking your friends why they’re “depressed” when all they are really feeling is sad. Stop labelling your friends and associating them with various disorders for figuring out what suits them the best. This can be extremely triggering and a traumatic event for a large number of people. The effect of these jokes can lead a person, such as myself, to fall deeper into the hole that mental illness has dug. Instead of making a mockery of mental illness, let’s all make an effort to support and assist each other in getting the help we need!

Avika Lohia (Youth-Pro Volunteer)