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Younger generations on the internet love to joke about morbid topics, but is it cathartic or a sign of far deeper problems?

Are dark humor jokes about mental health actually a cry for help?

According to The Crisis Center, a Canadian suicide hotline, “as many as 80 percent of suicidal people mention or joke about suicide to others in their lives as a cry for help.” With a bunch of dark humor floating around the internet, especially in younger generations, is the dark humor trend on social media a way to break taboos or a cry for help?

CDC numbers

The last time the Center for Disease Control collected numbers about suicide victims in the U.S. was in 2018. They concluded that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for all age groups. It’s the second-leading cause of death worldwide for people aged 10-34. 

However, the CDC reported that the most at-risk group for suicide was white, middle-aged men, not teens. They elaborated that white males accounted for nearly 70 percent of all suicide fatalities. Middle-aged people (45-54 years old) had the highest number of suicides, followed by seniors, with an average suicide rate of 19.6 per 100,000. 

Further, younger people’s suicide numbers are in line with the national average. “In 2018, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 14.45,” the CDC concluded. So, why the discrepancy between the leading causes of death? Simple. Fewer things kill young people (the number one cause of death for adults between 45-54 years old was heart attacks, much fewer young adults have those).

Internet memes

However, experts are expressing alarm at the trend of dark humor memes circulating the internet. They point to jokes about “drinking bleach” and “eating Tide Pods” as possible cries for help. 

According to Know Your Meme, the Tide Pod meme started after increased calls to poison control regarding children ingesting laundry pods (these were young children mistaking the pods for candy, not suicidal teens). 

The meme spread into photoshopping public figures with Tide Pods in their hands and an Onion satirical piece written by “a child” explaining their decision to eat a Tide pod “come hell or high water”. While this read more as a commentary on toddlers having no concept of personal safety (hence they need to be watched all the time), the meme morphed into a commentary on mental health. 

Suicide rates are increasing

Over the last decade, the suicide rates increased from over 11 in 100,000 deaths from suicide into over 14 in 100,000 deaths by suicide. The increasing numbers correlate with a “jobless recovery” from the 2008 recession, stagnating wages, climate change woes, and an increasingly negative news cycle & polarizing politics.

Is it really about suicide? 

“The Tide Pod meme, which originated with people who were almost definitely not eating Tide Pods, was misread and re-presented so many times that some teens actually did end up eating Tide Pods. It became a joke about how idiots on the internet will do anything, a joke about how offline adults will panic about everything.” writes Kaitlyn Tiffany on The Verge

Tiffany argues that no one says what they mean anymore. As part of our growing edgelord culture, it’s cool to be ironic and pass memes that are misinterpreted by people looking at them, especially curmudgeonly people in authority who don’t understand the internet in the first place. 

While that may be true, it prompts us to ask: what about the rising suicide rate? In young people, the suicide rate skyrocketed between 2000 – 2017 from over 4,000 deaths per year to nearly 7,000 deaths per year according to a graph from Business Insider.

When to get help

Indeed, jokes can be a cathartic way to mask despair. However, they can also mean you’re suicidal. If you’re thinking one too many times to yourself that it’s time to jump in front of a train or reach under the sink for chemicals to “do you in,” especially if it’s to the point where the “jokes” in your head aren’t funny anymore, it’s time to seek help. 

Get off the internet, call a friend, call a family member, seek out online therapy. There are plenty of ways to reach out, even in a global pandemic. If you or a loved one are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. It could save your (or their) life. Remember, you’re not alone and it’s okay to reach out for help.

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