Suicide no laughing matter

Nov 022006

Suicide isn’t funny and a campus group wants students to know.

The media only helps to perpetuate stereotypes about suicide and suicide victims, said Donna Neer, president of Students for Suicide Awareness and Prevention.

“If it’s not OK to joke around about AIDS or cancer, then why is it OK to joke about people taking their own lives?” Neer asked.

The suicide prevention group discussed the topic of suicide and humor at a recent gathering, one of several held throughout the year that explores topics related to suicide.

Neer used several examples of insensitive references to suicide in pop culture, including a skit by counterculture comedian George Carlin joking about suicide and self-mutilation, an instance where a character on “Friends” joked about her mom killing herself, and a satirical article published in The Onion headlined “Project Manager Leaves Suicide PowerPoint Presentation.”

“Jokes like George Carlin’s inspire people to be disrespectful,” Neer said.

Many in the group agreed that when suicide is mentioned in a serious manner, it kills a conversation – this is because some have a hard time talking about things they don’t understand.

“People make jokes about things that they don’t know how to deal with because it makes it less awkward for them,” said Sari Maneotis, a junior psychology major.

They also touched on the idea that dark humor could be a warning of suicide.

“People who joke about it might really be thinking about it,” said Aya Ushijima, a first-year veterinary student.

Suicide in Colorado appears to be a bigger problem than in the rest of the country. Some of the highest suicide rates are in the Rocky Mountain states.

Sharon Clemens, a therapist at the Suicide Resource Center for Larimer County, said enough studies haven’t been done about why this is the case, but that there are some theories floating around, including higher alcohol rates and a lack of program funding.

“We are now ranked 33rd in the nation for how effectively we help with depression and suicide,” she said. “Part of it may be that we don’t have the services for people to get help. Colorado is not a good place to live if you have a mental illness.”

She added that New York and Massachusetts are states that spend more money than Colorado on suicide-prevention social programs, and they have lower suicide rates.

That’s where SSAP and other prevention groups come into play.

“The purpose of this group is to change the way we talk and think about suicide,” Neer said.

Staff writer Taryn Clark can be reached at

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