Mental illness isn’t a trend

Our denial of the impact of mental illness and suicide isn’t helping anyone


AP News

TikTok did not take down a viral video of man committing suicide, later attributing the video’s spread to a dark web raid effort

**TRIGGER WARNING: mentions suicide**

On Aug. 31, a video of army veteran Ronnie McNutt taking his life was live streamed on Facebook. Despite people reporting the footage, the social media platform initially didn’t take the video down, because it reportedly didn’t go against their Community Standards. Eventually, they removed it, but only after a few hours had already passed.

This delay allowed for the video to be shared to other platforms, most notably on TikTok, where the video was disguised and posted in different ways in order to avoid the app’s restrictions to graphic content.

TikTok has since stated that the video stems from the efforts of a dark web raid, but that isn’t the focus of what I want to talk about.

I hope it goes without saying that one’s suicide shouldn’t be in anyone’s feed. Suicide isn’t something to glorify or turn to for entertainment purposes.

What disturbs me the most about this whole situation is the fact that Facebook didn’t think to take the video down right away. 

However, while I certainly think companies should be held accountable for the content which is spread on their social media platforms, I feel like it’s wrong to just point the finger at Facebook and move on. They are far from the only guilty party.

I think Facebook’s initial reaction reflects the tendency of our society to downplay suicide and mental illness and the real impact they have on people.

In 2018, the Center for Disease Control reported 48,344 suicides in the United States, while the homicide count stood at 18,830. Moreover, suicide was the second leading cause of death for those aged 10-34, and tenth overall. 

Despite these startling statistics, most people seem to prefer to pretend these issues don’t exist. And I understand that suicide and mental illness are difficult to talk about and make a lot of people uncomfortable. 

It’s easier to just look at these statistics as mere numbers. But these numbers are real people who existed and then made the decision not to anymore. And the statistics don’t even account for the numerous people forever changed by each life lost, which likely amounts to millions each year in the US alone. As someone who has lost one friend and almost a second to suicide, I’m telling you the effects are real. 

We have to realize that our comfort is irrelevant when there are people – friends, family – around us suffering and in some cases tragically dying because of it. Are we not going to support them and educate ourselves just because it makes us uncomfortable?

If we continue to let others struggle in silence and glorify suicide through social media and “jokes,” this only further alienates and belittles the experiences of those who live with mental illness(es). 

Change and progress can only occur when we see and understand the obstacles we’re facing, not when we ignore them and continue to live in whatever fantasy we’re currently living.

So please, start the conversations, educate yourself, and above all else, listen.