The Desensitization of the Phrase “I’m Going to Kill Myself”


Caroline Li, Staff Writer

Trigger warning: this article discusses suicide and mental health at length. If you suspect your mental or physical well-being may be distressed by reading about these topics, please consult the list of mental health resources at the end of this article.

High schoolers deal with a lot of stress. We are charged with the tireless task of juggling exhausting amounts of coursework, extracurriculars, high school drama, and physical changes—often at the cost of our physical and mental health. So it’s not surprising that there has been a disturbing rise of the perfunctory “kys” (which stands for “kill yourself”) and “I’m going to kms” (kms stands for “kill myself”) in teen conversations. These histrionic hyperboles’ purposes are to serve as humorous expressions of frustration over our shared struggles; however, they have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for the warning signs of someone truly struggling with suicidal thoughts to be differentiated from the jokes.

The most prevalent culprit behind this recent trend (and a massive uptick in online communication in general) is social media. Platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook strongly appeal to adolescents, primarily by virtue of their usefulness as an outlet for creativity, communication, and the exchange of new and diverse perspectives.

Social media’s accessibility is what makes it king—anyone with an email address can make an account and build a presence. Those with extensive audiences can engender real change in the world with their platforms by shouting for silenced voices to be heard and amplifying movements with hashtags or informational posts. Connections are forged between people who ordinarily would never have met, and sources of inspiration and educational enrichment are produced and disseminated to consumers. Even the divide between role models and the people they have touched, once a gaping chasm, has been reduced to a mere crack with hourly tweets and stories that allow fans glimpses into their idols’ personal lives. 

All this means is that it’s now easier than ever for people to open up about their private lives to an audience of peers and anonymous strangers alike. One might then ask:

How can social media be bad?

Overuse of such platforms has long been reported to be linked to depression and other mental health risks by their addictive natures, manipulative algorithms, and competitive markets for internet fame. In addition, social media’s excellence as a tool for wish fulfillment means that users are free to cherry-pick the best parts of their lives while hiding the ugly, which perpetuates the long-standing tradition of competing against our peers to appear the happiest or most well-off, even if that may not always be the case. 

The result: inadequacy, insecurity, and envy—the three furies of the social media battlefield— end up holding the reins on our mental health. This dangerous development calls for change in our interactions with these predatory platforms, especially considering that the source of these grievances is more often than not the intangible perception of others being more talented, more beautiful, and more accomplished than we are, all filtered through an algorithm that preys on the insecurities of the vulnerable teens that lie behind their phone screens.

Why is this important?

A 2017 national survey found that 76 percent of all American teens from ages 13 to 17 use Instagram, a statistic that, when contextualized by a 2018 study that found that children from ages 8 to 18 were the most susceptible to outside social influence of any age group, suggests that allowing adolescents to engage in the copious amounts of interaction enabled by social media allows for extensive influence from outside sources, which may lead to the spread of dangerous habits and values (such as the normalization of suicidal ideation in casual conversation). 

In the context of the evidence presented above, our peers’ treatment and views on sensitive topics can hold great influence over our own treatments and values on them. With how impressionable teens are, even a single instance in an Instagram group chat of “I want to kill myself” not being taken seriously could be enough for the seeds of desensitization to take root in a teenager’s mind.

Discussion about suicide may be helpful when raising awareness for the issue, but without proper context, it may lead to “sadfishing,” a phenomenon where one deliberately portrays themself as deserving of sympathy in order to attain it—hence the trivialization of the phrase “I’m going to kill myself.” Of course, accusations of sadfishing should not be applied to someone just because they express dubious depressive sentiments; all this does is alienate and perpetuate distrust. Instead, we should ask ourselves before we post: “Am I doing this because I truly feel this way, or am I doing this to gain attention?”

Suicide is a real issue. We often forget this because many have been fortunate enough to have not been affected by it. According to The Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, “We know that teenagers suffer all sorts of challenges as they navigate the murky waters of growing up. We also know that rarely do these kids take their own lives. Nevertheless, some of them do, and parents and providers alike must share the burden of the inexact science of determining where the greatest risks lie.”

How can we help?

Since we often lack specific information about each individual’s private emotional health, the best way we passively help those who are seriously considering suicide is to choose our words carefully and be cognizant of what we say online; considering the surfeit of internet platforms dedicated to connecting, educating, and communicating, we should be promoting discussion about mental health, not discussion making light of it. And if you truly do believe that you or someone you know may be at risk of resorting to suicide, you can call or text 988 or 1-800-273-8255. There is also a list of resources below that you can look into.

When academic stress meets insecurity, and insecurity meets social media in a hormone-ruled body, we, as students and teenagers, have a tendency to take liberties when expressing ourselves—which is harmless, until it results in the voices of those truly struggling with mental health being diminished and the terminology used to discuss their struggles being appropriated into popular culture. 

So, the next time you bomb a test or find that you’ve procrastinated away the entire weekend, there’s a good chance you’ll feel the urge to groan and shoot a quick “bro, I’m actually gonna kms” to your friends, even though you know you won’t. When that happens—and it happens often, thanks to said hormones—please stop and reflect on the influence that your treatment of suicide has on those who are dealing with it. Because suicide, a phenomenon where someone is suffering so greatly they choose to kill themselves rather than endure the pain, has become such a trivial buzzword that it can be and is dismissed by a quick “lol” or “aww” in conversation. 

While it is good that mental health discussion is being normalized, I must repeat that those discussions are only beneficial when they normalize awareness and empathy for mental health struggles, not when they normalize making light of them or make suicidal individuals feel invisible. Remember, the effort we exert to amend those habits shows we care, and will ultimately go to making our community a more empathetic and supportive place.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call or text 988 or 1-800-273-8255 to connect to suicide prevention resources. Additional help can also be found in this list of links.Here are some warning signs that someone might be struggling with suicidal thoughts and/or ideation

Always be respectful and empathetic; don’t lash out at others or at yourself. The length of this article itself alone should indicate that this is a deeply nuanced issue with many gray areas. We’re here to support each other, not to tear each other down.


Photo courtesy of UNSPLASH.COM