Earlier this week, I saw a post on Twitter about Maggie Harder, a young lady from Canada that was upset by suicide themed t-shirts that are being sold on Amazon (in their humor section). The various shirts have sayings such as "Got Suicide?" or "Suicide Watch" which also has an image of one person on a chair with a noose around their neck while another person sits, watches, and eats popcorn.
First of all, I applaud Maggie for seeing a problem and taking a stand Not only are these shirts insensitive to those who have lost loved ones to suicide, but they also poke fun at one of the most crippling diseases in society, mental illness. as a person that has struggled with depression for years, and lost my son to suicide, I really don't see the humor, or any kind of rational logic, in these shirts.
The shirts boast such sayings as "Suicide makes our lives so much easier" and "Stressed, depressed but well dressed." Really? My life has been a living hell since the death of my son. Every day is a struggle just to get out of bed, get dressed and go to work. Do I want to turn off the alarm, pull the covers back over my head, and curl up into a ball? Every damn day. But I don't. It would be so easy. No one would blame me, after all, the pain I live with daily is just as crippling as any physical ailment. There are days where I have no energy, no desire to do anything. There are days where getting from the bed to the couch is a chore. There are even days where I think about how easy it would be to make the pain go away, but I don't. I refuse to give in, and I will not.
Sadly, there are far too many people out there that suffer from forms of mental illness, mainly depression. According to that Archives of General Psychiatry, almost 15 million adults suffer from some sort of persistent depression. Depression is also one of the leading causes of suicide. almost two-thirds of the suicides completed in the US each year are linked to depression, and 90 percent of all who complete suicide are suffering from some form of mental illness, most of them untreated, so I am not seeing the joke.
Amazon is not the only culprit. Several TV shows use suicide as a punch line. Perhaps the most prevalent is Family Guy. One episode goes so far as to show Peter taking off his belt, attaching it to the ceiling fan, and hanging himself. Another has Stewie encouraging Meg to kill herself in order to get a full page in the year book. I know the show prides itself on being politically incorrect and not sparing any group, from racial minorities to the physically handicapped. However, there are some topics that are just off limits, and suicide is one of them. While the show's creator, Seth McFarlane may defend itself as saying that much of the show is satire, I can't see how he could defend these scenes. After all, satire is humor designed to bring about change, but I fail to see how Peter dangling from a ceiling fan is going to help.
Every day, I stand in front of a class of students, and we read literature that deals with topics ranging from the abolition of slavery, religious beliefs, and women's rights. We see how perceptions have changed over time, and how authors have addressed these topics in order to bring about change. Perhaps it is time to take the same approach with the topics of mental illness and suicide. Perhaps through a voice of reason, some one will use their talents to bring these topics to light and help bring about a change in perception too.
To those that have lost some one to suicide, and to those struggling daily under the weight of mental illness, I implore you to take a stand and make your voice heard. Until people realize that there is no humor is suicide, then nothing will change. It is not just a joke or a t-shirt, it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Author's Note: I began this entry on Sunday, January 9, 2016. Before I published it, I went to the Amazon website, and saw that they no longer offer the above mentioned shirts. To the people that spoke out in outrage, especially Maggie Harder, thank you.