The Harm of Our Words

Editor’s Note: Resources for any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal are listed at the end of this article.

We’ve all heard a frustrated person say, “I want to kill myself.” Perhaps we’ve even said this five-letter phrase ourselves during periods of stress. As our much-needed spring break comes to an end and the spring semester once again resumes, there is no doubt that students will once again experience the challenges that come along with attending Amherst. There is also no doubt that the phrases “I just want to die” or “I want to kill myself” will once again join the vernacular of the student body. Words, however, have more power than we give them credit for. Despite the casual nature of these comments, we urge students to consider the harmful impact of using such language on campus.

Our campus is not immune to the struggles of mental health that affect millions of Americans. Students use the Counseling Center on a daily basis and the Health and Wellness Team exists for a reason. In Amherst’s highly demanding environment, we all face challenges both on and away from campus, and many students on campus suffer from mental illness.

As a result, Amherst has made strides in ensuring that students and other members of the campus-wide community have access to critical mental health resources. We have all seen emails that tell us to reach out to the Counseling Center, the Office of Student Affairs or the Religious and Spiritual Life office on campus. We’ve participated in or witnessed efforts to destigmatize mental health on campus through organizations like Active Minds or events like the Mental Health Walk. So why then, in spite of these great efforts, do students still trivialize the idea of mental illness through casual references to suicide?

Although such phrases are said jokingly during times of stress, it is obvious that suicide is a very serious issue. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those between ages 15 and 24, a demographic which includes the vast majority of Amherst students. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 47,173 reported suicides in the U.S. in 2017, with a further 1.4 million estimated suicide attempts. Many of us know people who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or who have actually attempted or died by suicide. Suicide is no laughing matter. Stop treating it as such.

The country has seen many campaigns in the past to remove use of the word “gay” as a derogatory adjective or the “n-word” from our vocabulary. People have advocated for others to stop saying “I’m so OCD” or “I’m so depressed” if we don’t actually suffer from Obsesssive Complusive Disorder (OCD) or depression. Where are the massive campaigns to stop trivializing suicide with our language? More importantly, why do we keep saying “I’m going to kill myself” in a casual manner when we already know the grim and tragic statistics about suicide? The use of death and dying as a joke or a meme has proliferated the internet and social media and continues to creep into our everyday lives. This trend has become ingrained in social media, as evidenced through the language that we continue to use in real-world settings. We urge every student to reconsider their use of suicide and death as an outlet for stress or as a form of dark humor.

It is hypocritical to advocate for the destigmatization of mental illness and to show our care for those with mental illness while repeating insensitive phrases that may inadvertently affect those who are struggling with suicide. Would you say “I’m going to kill myself” in front of someone who has attempted to take their own life? Would you say that phrase to someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts? If your answer is no, as is should be, don’t say it at all.

*Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can access an Amherst College counselor by calling 413-542-2354 at any time. People can also reach trained counselors by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-784-2433 or texting the Crisis Text Line at 741741. *

—Unsigned editorials represent the Editorial Board (assenting: 10; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 3)