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April 28, 2011
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She came to class nearly crying.
When I asked what was wrong, the teacher excused us and we left. That’s when the waterworks came. I pulled her into a hug as she cried on my shoulder.
She’d just come from health class, where they’d watched the “Degrassi” episode about abuse. She said that “Degrassi” reflected her experiences with abuse very accurately, yet the entire class laughed. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would laugh at her traumatic experiences, and it broke her heart.
I assured her they don’t know what they’re talking about, they’re just being immature, but I knew it didn’t help.
My good friend is not the only one who deals with the aftereffects of trauma or mental illness. Throughout high school, I’ve had many friends who have had depression or anxiety, self-harmed, vicariously experienced eating disorders, attempted suicide, been sexually assaulted, and who have been abused. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would think these topics are funny, yet I hear jokes about them almost every day.
I’ve heard people joke about how depression, self-harm, and suicide are “stupid” because suicide is “illegal,” not knowing that a person who has attempted suicide was standing in front of them. I’ve seen people laugh about how it isn’t rape if you said “surprise” or if it was your “birthday,” inadvertently in front of a person dealing with the aftereffects of sexual assault. Even today, I heard someone jokingly say how his dad drinks “juice” and then “hurts” his mom, mocking a child’s understanding of alcoholism and domestic violence. When I told him this wasn’t funny, he smirked and told me he knew it wasn’t funny, but that he liked to joke about it anyway.
I wanted so badly to tell him about my friend and how, for her, the situation he described had been reality. I wanted to tell him how hurt she had been by similar comments, how helpless I felt trying to comfort her. I wanted to make him realize how his words affected others, but I didn’t.
Teenagers make jokes about topics which are extremely sensitive to some people, such as depression, self-harm, rape, suicide, eating disorders, abuse, and many other situations, traumas, and mental illnesses which many of us don’t understand. Yes, I get it. This lack of understanding can often times lead to wanting to lighten up the tone. “Kids become really uncomfortable with something tragic and serious. They don’t know how to process it so they try to release the tension,” David Dugo, Grant’s psychologist, says. “I can see where the impulse comes from to want to joke about serious things.”
However, there are many people who are hit hard by these mindless jokes because they have a personal relationship with these problems. Joking about these things in a high school environment, says Dugo, “is like making death jokes at a funeral,” or like stomping in minefields—the issues are so widespread.
Teendepression.org says that 20 percent of all teens will experience depression before they become an adult. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six women and one in 33 men have been sexually assaulted. According to the London Institute of Child Health, up to 16 percent of all children in the developing world are physically abused each year. Global Market Insite says that four out of 10 Americans have or personally know someone who has an eating disorder. That means that if you’re in a classroom of 30 people, statistically, six of them have experienced depression at some point, most of them will have had a relationship with someone with an eating disorder, at least two girls and possibly one boy have been sexually assaulted, and at least two people have been physically abused. Added to that, there are even more people with whom survivors and sufferers of such issues confide—and often, the confident ones experiencing it vicariously can be just as sensitive to careless jokes as the people suffering.
Most of the time, you won’t know who is offended by these jokes as most people do not openly talk about these things. “There is a big stigma where people will judge you or stereotype you when they know you have a mental health problem,” says Dugo. “It’s why people are so private about their stuff: because there is a large amount of ignorance out there.”
Be careful of what you say. I’m not saying that you should never, ever talk about these things, because you should—discussing serious social and emotional topics in a positive, supportive way is important for fostering a healthy community. I’m saying you shouldn’t make mindless jokes about serious matters such as these because you don’t know what your peers are going through.
Next time you joke about your father consuming “juice” and beating up your mother, next time you joke about how someone needs to become anorexic because of their size, next time you joke about how you’re so depressed you’re going to “become emo” and cut yourself, ask yourself, “How would this comment affect the people around me? Do I really know what they’re going through?”





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Mystiecub said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm
I can relate to this article for the mere fact that I myself am a victim of severe bullying and have seen these people say these things. It's rediculous. Around here at least, it's mainly the boys, but whoever it is doesn't ever seem to care if what they say hurts someone. It's heartbreaking and sickening.
 
Mystiecub said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm
being a victim of severe bullying myself, I agree with all of the content in this article. I've seen people being stupid like this, and it sickens me. How, just how, can these people (around here its mainly the boys) joke about this kind of stuff and think its ok? If someone gets insulted enough that person making the comments could be suspended from school. It's stupid. Shut your mouth and talk about that crap at home. That's what I always say.
 
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