I sat quietly as the class around me giggled. We were watching a video of a man demonstrating the nonverbal signs for suicide among different cultures. When he threw an invisible noose around his neck, he made a silly face and stuck out his tongue.
People laughed. Before the start of my sophomore year at Hesston College, I went through a mental health training course to prepare for being a ministry assistant. The leader told everyone to partner up and practice verbalizing the question, “Are you suicidal?”
When people looked into their partner’s eyes, they felt silly and uncomfortable, so they giggled.
But the ones who weren’t laughing were the ones who had asked that question for real and heard affirmation. People don’t laugh about suicide because they think it’s funny: they laugh because they’re uncomfortable.
Some feel that people who are suicidal are to be feared or covered up. People who commit suicide are described as selfish or taking the easy way out. We have this idea that it should just go away on its own, that we shouldn’t talk about it.
The stigma surrounding suicide is one of fear and discomfort, which makes it difficult to talk about.
But the importance of this conversation outweighs that uneasiness. We simply can’t afford to brush off suicide.
In 2013, the CDC reported that in the United States, 41,149 people took their own lives, averaging one nearly every 13 minutes. That number seems low considering the CDC estimates that 9.3 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts, and nearly 2.7 million actually came up with a plan in that same year.
Suicide is the result of depression, stress or anxiety, among other things. But no one talks about those triggers until it’s too late.
Now, suicide is becoming more prevalent on college campuses. In the spring of 2015, the American College Health Association found that nearly 50 percent of college students had felt overwhelmed or exhausted in the last two weeks, and 47 percent had found academics to be traumatic or difficult to handle.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 20-24, with one in every 12 college students having formed a plan at some point, according to the ACHA. Each year, nearly 1,000 of those plans are followed through.
Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and To Write Love on Her Arms provide resources for people who are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act provides funding for youth suicide prevention programs and campus suicide prevention programs.
But that’s not enough.While more organizations offering assistance to people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts would be great, we need to be aware, to be comfortable discussing suicide or simply get over the uneasiness. We need to take responsibility for what we say and what we laugh at.
When I looked at my friend to ask if she was suicidal while she avoided eye contact, laughing was the furthest thing from my mind.
I was trembling, on the verge of tears, ready to throw up. But in that moment, her life mattered more than my comfort. As a 19-year-old college student, I knew I didn’t have a way to fix it, but I knew I could be present. I could walk alongside her in her battle with depression and suicidal thoughts and keep showing up for her.
I made myself available. I put assignments on hold, and I went to bed later than planned. I wasn’t going to let her become a number forgotten in the statistics of college students lost to suicide each year.
They were never easy conversations, but they were necessary. They were worth it.
Now, whenever I hear people laughing about suicide or say they’d rather shoot themselves than go to class, I cringe. It hits too close to home.
It means the conversation about suicide isn’t happening enough, if at all. Because to them, it’s still a joke.
But what’s so funny about suicide?