Watch your words

Jeanette Cibelli

When I scrolled through Twitter last Saturday morning, I was surprised to learn that it was World Suicide Prevention Day. I had not known that this day of awareness existed, and I was grateful for it. Although I have never lost a friend or family member to suicide, I know people who have or who have struggled with suicidal thoughts throughout their lives. These are kind, loving people who have benefitted my life in many ways, so I see any effort to productively discuss this issue as a positive thing.

In my sociology classes, one of the lessons we learn time and time again is how to use language appropriately to discuss difficult topics. Our ability to communicate effectively leads to progress in awareness, resources and medical care available, but many times, we do not communicate in this way. Part of this problem with language is the jokes we make. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so there is no better time to start being aware of what we say about suicide than now.

Too often, something slips out of our mouths that is insensitive, offensive or plain wrong. Such mistakes are a part of learning, if you’re open to admitting to and correcting them. This got me thinking about how people sometimes jokingly use suicidal language to describe their problems.

We’ve all done it, myself included. We’re having a hard day full of studying, work, family issues and Chartwells-related stomachaches, so we say something like, “Kill me now” or “I’d rather be dead.” Thankfully, a lot of the time, the person who says something like this is exaggerating. “I think I’m dying,” is a common phrase of mine, reserved for when I’m sleep-deprived, anxious, hungry or have a sore throat, but I know I’m kidding, and I know I should stop doing this. I’m not going to get into that “technically, we’re all dying” argument, because that is not the point.

The point is that these exaggerations can hurt people. Someone who overhears you may think of a person in their life who has committed suicide or has a mental illness, and it can be insanely frustrating to hear those words tossed around loosely. You were not “depressed” because your favorite guy on “The Bachelorette” was sent home. You did not have a “panic attack” when someone snuck up behind your back and startled you. You would not prefer to “jump off Sleeping Giant” rather than finishing your English essay.

I am not saying to downplay or ignore your problems in life. I’m not saying that you cannot express those problems. In fact, I am a huge advocate of talking things out with people you trust. Absolutely everyone has challenging things going on that we may or may not be aware of, and those are all valid, real problems. They may be of differing levels of severity, but that does not mean they don’t “qualify” as problems. One of my biggest struggles right now is trying to decide if I should go home for my brother’s eighteenth birthday or if I should stay at Quinnipiac for a retreat with my sorority. Both are excellent options, but it is undeniably something that is weighing on my mind. However, I’m happy that this is currently my problem because there have been times when things were much, much worse, as I’m sure is the case for many people out there.
I’m trying to be a bit more careful about what I say. I know there will be times when I mess up, but I’ll own up to that. Even the smallest bit of improvement is a step in the right direction, and I hope that maybe you’ll think of that the next time you’re tempted to say, “I’d rather kill myself,” because chances are, you wouldn’t.