How the language about mental health needs to change

Is Twitter’s suspension of accounts using suicidal phrases going to work?


Written By Lauren Ortego, Co-Opinions Editor

This week, hundreds of Twitter users found their accounts to be deactivated, gone without a trace. As it turns out, the social media powerhouse was simply cleaning up a bit and many were left confused and a little bit angry at the decision.

Accounts that were targeted include: tweet-deckers (accounts that took previously popular tweets and copied them, creating elaborate rings of deckers making money off of other people’s tweets and retweets), personal giveaway accounts and many users who alluded to suicide.

Here’s the thing: I see what Twitter is doing. At least with the deactivation of accounts that repeatedly tweeted thoughts such as “I want to kill myself,” “Kill me” or any variation of the sort. After deactivation, Twitter sent the users emails with the tweet in question and a hotline to call if you or a loved one need mental health – reminding the user that they’re not alone.

And while I don’t fully agree with how Twitter handled the situation, I do think it’s worth taking a look at how this language can affect young people and how we not only view ourselves, but how the world views us.

I’m not quite sure when using suicidal thoughts and phrases in passing began. I can probably pinpoint some time in high school but for the sake of accuracy, let’s just say it was recent. However, I have noticed, within the past few months, that this language is used at an alarming rate, something that would confuse anyone past the age of about 25 years old.

Just this past year, I was working 36 hours a week in addition to being a full-time student, and found myself ridiculously stressed out and overworked. My manager at the time, who is only about four years older than me, noticed my exhaustion and asked how I was doing. I looked at him and said, “Oh fine, I just, you know, wish I was dead.”

He stopped and gave me a look that I thought only a mother could produce. After insisting for 15 minutes that I was fine, he left me alone. His concern was funny to me at first, but then I thought about the implications of what I had just said to him.

I had told him that with all the work I had, I would’ve rather been dead.

Now look, I’m not here to police the way you speak or what you say, because I’m not in the business of censorship (what a bad journalist I would be if I was), but I do want us, as a generation, to think just a little more closely about how we choose to express annoyance.

And I know – it’s kind of hard. It’s hard to eliminate something we’ve ingrained into our speech, something we use to communicate with fellow young persons, something so quick and easy to describe how annoyed we are at life or school or the president, etc.

I have tried and failed multiple times this year to end that way of speaking, at least for myself, and we’re only three months in. It’s such a simple way to express how we, in our current state, are feeling.

But it’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous trying to figure out who is kidding and who isn’t. It’s dangerous to the continuation of our already deteriorating mental health. I’ve never heard of a generation of people so affected by the trials of depression and anxiety, especially college students.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people ages 10-24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

I don’t want the signs to have been obvious the whole time but because our numbness to mental health is slowly getting stronger, none of us will able to tell.