'Humour', Suicide and Mental Illness

I can’t be arsed getting overly analytical on this, but tonight I’ve been reading the archives of an brilliantly written and mature blog from a girl, Mariah, (a young woman now, about 18 if my maths isn’t fucking with me) who lost her best friend to suicide, and in the wake thereof almost killed herself.  She no longer maintains the blog (happily due to feeling positive enough to no longer need it), but the archives are definitely worth a read over at The Suicide List.

One thing Mariah has done extensively throughout the blog is draw attention to supposedly humourous articles and pictures that mock suicide and issues relating to it.  Not that she finds them funny; she finds them unspeakably ill-informed and offensive.  Some of the stuff is outrageous, but – and I am ashamed to admit this – there were some things she’d listed that I actually found really funny :-/

For example:

Suicide is the absolute and irreversible pwnage of one’s self IRL…It is the equivalent of flipping over the Monopoly board. Contrary to popular belief, this also stops you from posting online.

(I’m not sourcing the link for the above, because some of the material therein is grossly offensive, ignorant bollocks, and indeed is possibly triggering.  But the above paragraph actually made me laugh out loud).

I have a dark and twisted sense of humour – as most of my regular readers probably know – and I don’t make any apology for it particularly.  Mental or otherwise, suicidal or otherwise, I often do find the ‘humour’ surrounding these issues – whether originally borne out of stigma, ignorance or something else entirely – to be amusing.  Yet when I hear people in the pub or on a bus or something ripping the piss out of mentalism, I want to go over to them and smash their faces in.

A gay friend of mine (not Daniel nor Aaron – let’s call him Pete) once told me that he found a lot of piss-taking of gay and lesbian people to be funny, because it was ‘alright’ for him to think that.  When I sought clarification on his meaning, he told me that as I am heterosexual, I didn’t have any right to ‘claim’ such humour, but that he as a homosexual did.  I enquired as to whether or not Pete saw the hypocrisy of this; ‘one rule for me, one for everyone else’.  He waved a hand dismissively and changed the subject.

Am I the very thing that I derided in the previous paragraph?  Or is it genuinely more ‘OK’ for the mentally ill amongst us to poke fun at our conditions and their symptoms, prognoses etc than everyone else, merely because we understand the issues better?  In that regard, was Pete not a hypocrite – did he simply understand gay issues more than the likes of me ever could?

Do the jokes of those not within the specific demographic represented in a punchline make the jokers ignorant or stigmatising?  Or can they too – at least in some cases – understand the issues about which they joke, and wish to laugh with us and not at us, in whatever blithe or morose kind of fashion that that may be?

If we (or I) can find justification for finding certain dark things amusing, where do we draw the line between irreverent, near-the-knuckle humour and defiling, potentially damaging, offensiveness?

This is mostly rhetorical, and I doubt I’ll ever have any answers.  Still, if you have any thoughts, enquiring minds (and this one) would be glad to hear them.

21 thoughts on “'Humour', Suicide and Mental Illness

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  7. I’ve just written an article about this for One in Four! I think it’s acceptable- nay, encouraged- to laugh at mentalism. But there’s a difference between taking the piss and just being an ignorant cunt. I think the line in the sand is experience- the people who make the best jokes about it are people who’ve been through it, and those who make ignorant, not-funny comments are people who usually have no experience of it at all. I personally am almost never offended by jokes on mental illness or suicide but that’s largely because I’m not easily “triggered” which is where I think a lot of some offense comes from- nasty jokes on mental illness are practically goading to some, which isn’t good.

    (I find a lot of ED funny by the way).

    • I think triggering’s part of it, definitely. Also, I think there are some out there – people who have the best of intentions – who become all ‘militant’ about discrimination, and think that humour (regardless of its source) normalises stigma. I can see that argument, definitely, but I think you can take things too seriously at the same time. It’s about finding a balance, I suppose; not tolerating total ignorance but being a wee bit more relaxed about some of the banter that’s out there.

      (I find a lot of ED funny by the way).

      Me too. I work my way between it, Sickipedia and back issues of Viz.

      x

    • humour can reduce stigma, though. Look at us, we’ve kind of reclaimed the, “mentalist” label in a semi-ironic way. If we take those words and apply them to ourselves, humourously, we reduce their ability to hurt us and stigmatise us. I think being too worthy is counterproductive because it encourages it to become a more taboo subject. I think less reverence, not more, is the way to go!

  8. Very interesting- I think there is a place for humour re mental health probs, it just depends on the _Intent_ behind it. Is it a bit of banter or does someone _really_ think that being mentally ill or wanting to comimt suicide is funny? I guess it can be hard to judge but still the reasons behind it are I think what makes it acceptable or otherwise.

    As to were you draw the line- pass!!

    Best wishes
    Kate

  9. basically i agree with seaneen :) i was going to say too that i think it’s one of those things where if you’ve been there, it’s perhaps easier to make jokes with a genuine insight. on the other hand, i don’t think that necessarily means it’s impossible for other people to either make or get those jokes. i think it’s a question of understanding the difference between a joke based in stigma and, i guess, derision, as opposed to a joke made in, excuse the pun, good humour.

    a lot of my friends take the piss out of my mentalist exploits, but they’re my mates, and therefore they get it, at least to a degree. but i’d be angry if someone did it who had no idea what it was actually like for me or any conception of how mentalism works/feels to the person in the midst of it. and i guess that’s the real crux – a joke made with some level of ideally empathy but failing that sympathy (and i don’t mean in a patronising way, just in an understanding way) is vastly different from a joke made out of derision and ignorance.

  10. OK, thank fuck for you lot – I was beginning to think I was really a stigma-perpetuating, twisted, evil bastard! I agree with basically everything you’ve all said. <3 x

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  12. I have bipolar mixed affective disorder.I take venlufaxine,epilim and zoplicone.I feel very depressed and suicidal at the moment.I have no family and when I`m like this I stay alive for the sake of my beautiful boxer dog Oskar who adores me.I dread something happening to him.I discovered your blog last night while being scared to sleep because of the disturbing dreams I have.It really helped me through the night.Thank you for that.

    • Thank you for commenting, Gordon. I’m really glad I had some part to play in helping you through last night, but I’m really sorry to hear that things are so shit for you at the moment. I wish I could help in some more tangible fashion, but you are more than welcome to contact me if you need a figurative shoulder to cry on. I’m on Facebook, Twitter or you can email me if you like (the contact form does work, despite how it seems!).

      Please take care as best you can – hugs for you and your lovely-sounding pooch.

      Hugs

      Pan x

    • Hello there,

      What you say about your lovely dog absolutely resonates with me. My cat is the only one who I live for when I feel like you: and I dread the idea that my death would cause him to suffer. He’s a Bengal, and so gets very attached to his main companion (me). Please give your lovely hound a bit cuddle from me, and really try to empty your mind of anything else that bothers you. If you really get stuck, please call the Samaritans (Pandora has a link on this site) – they are amazing at what they do, and so totally non-judgemental.

      Frankly though, you really should go and see your GP urgently. You are SUFFERING and they should help you – that’s what they are paid to do. Ask to be referred for psychotherapy as well as being given drugs. These feelings you have: they need to be sorted out good and proper and talked about at length. If you have trouble obtaining psychotherapy via NHS, you can get an advocate to fight your case. I suggest you search for an advocacy service that specialises in mental health in your area and get them onto it if you have to. I know how hard it is to write complaints when I’m ill. The advocates I use are currently writing to my MP and the CEO of my local Trust about the objectionable journey I’ve had to access psychotherapy. the advocates can act on your behalf in some cases, especially if you are not well enough to stand up for your best interests and rights…

      Please remember that most of the people here do identify with how you feel and that you are not alone. NOT! Even though we’ve never met, we all love you, and care desperately that you’ve taken the leap of faith to leave a message like that for us to read. That’s a really good sign, and shows that you are a fighter!

      Let us all know how you are getting on tomorrow, and try to snuggle up with your dawg and get some sleep.

      Big hugs,

      Clarissa

  13. I’m very much in favour of laughing WITH, and not AT. But I’ve got issues over being bullied for a large part of my life, so that’s hardly surprising… One thing though: I hate deliberate ignorance (and there is such a thing, I find)…. sorry, there’s a helicopter going over my house – obviously looking for dope farms out here in the sticks again… where were we? Oh yes – deliberate ignorance = evil faced nose fuckers with whom there is no rhyme or reasoning in life.

    On that note chaps, I’m off to bed with a glass of squash and the feeling that I might have to fart on the next person who laughs at some poor nutter…

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  15. Quite often I laugh at such jokes, but more because of the incredible ignorance of the joke teller. And in high school I was socialised to find ‘joke’ insults directed at me as funny.

  16. Like the others I think it depends on the humour and is the person telling the joke laughing with or at the mentally ill.

    Jokes like I wish my ‘grass was emo so it cut itself’ are great and just to add a disclaimer I am a self harmer.

    But I’ve been party to some conversation and jokes that are insulting and are definitely laughing at the mentally ill and that type of thing makes me uncomfortable.

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