Power of Words – Kill Yourself

Students with mental health issues wish others would stop using the term jokingly.

Carissa Tataki, Staff Writer

The letters “KMS,” short for “kill myself,” are scribbled on bathroom walls, but they carry an added weight for Charlie, a junior, who has dealt with anxiety their whole life. 

Charlie said that they also have emetophobia—the fear of vomiting—and endures panic attacks at random, which induces vomiting. Their anxiety has made school and socializing difficult, which leads to panic attacks. Charlie is being evaluated for ADHD and other processing disorders.

For Charlie, life beyond high school has also been anxiety-inducing.

“I thought that I would kill myself as soon as I graduated from high school because the ‘real world’ sounded like too much for me,” Charlie said. “I was so anxious about the future and success.”

Due to the personal nature of their story, Charlie was not comfortable revealing their identity, but they did want to share their experience with mental health.

Charlie said that their mental health has improved,  but they still say their recovery “isn’t linear,” and they struggle daily with anxiety.

Branham’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign, focused on student safety, encourages students to report behaviors that may endanger their or someone else’s well-being, including issues surrounding mental health.

As part of the campaign, a video played during outreach classes explores the meaning of the “KMS” slang, which can be said jokingly among students, but for others it’s taken more literally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that after unintentional injuries, suicide is the leading cause of death among youth aged 14 to 18. The National Alliance on Mental Illness bolsters this claim saying that roughly 20% of high school students have reported having seriously considered suicide. They add that 9% of high school aged individuals have attempted to end their lives.

Pat, another junior student, is one of those statistics. Pat has had thoughts of suicide, but has said they’ve avoided addressing their mental health. They said their history with suicidal ideation has “eaten them out,” and caused them to feel unmotivated in and out of school.

“It’s harder to make friends because everyone else around me seems so social,” Pat said. “I am trying, but my lack of emotions makes it difficult for me to put myself out there.” 

“Words do matter”

Prior to losing its advisor Kevin Nguyen, Branham’s previous Mental Health Matters Club aimed to promote transparency on the topic of mental health through student-led projects and advocacy. 

Senior Maggie Dong, the club’s former president, said that her experience in discussing mental illness has taught her the seriousness behind the phrase and believes it is no subject to joke around about.

“I dont want to say it’s normalized, but the phrase ‘kill myself’ is tossed around,” she said. 

Dong added that in the mental health field, the phrase is not taken lightly.

“There are serious implications behind the sentence,” she said. 

Dong too agrees that she has heard the phrase used at Branham– and not in a serious way.

“People are intentionally trying to be hurtful when they say it. There’s a lot of people who are unaware of the implications behind this phrase… When they say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ without meaning it, it shows a bit of carelessness and a lack of consideration for how it might be a serious topic for others,” she said. 

Additionally, Dong said this phrase tends to come out when people are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. 

“Sometimes we say these things that we don’t really mean when we are in tough situations. But its important to think about what you’re saying… Words do matter,” Dong said.

Both Pat and Charlie say that the phrase ‘I want to kill myself’ is often said on campus frivolously, often referring to a minor inconvenience or stressor.

It makes Charlie feel uncomfortable when people use the phrase lightly, however it doesn’t trigger them.

At the same time, they believe there is no simple answer to whether using the phrase dramatically is necessarily wrong.

“Everyone copes with stress in their own way — and to an extent — to each their own,” Charlie said. “To some extent ‘loose language’ surrounding mental illness can indicate comfort around talking about it,” they said. “I don’t want to stop people from joking about mental illness if it genuinely helps them cope or acts as a gateway for more serious conversation about mental illness.”

Still, Charlie said “‘kill myself’ and similar phrases diminish the severity of the mental illness symptom or struggle.” 

Pat sees it differently, saying “kill myself” is a form of “a form of disrespect for someone who has fought or is fighting for themselves or someone they love.”

Illustrated by Dhatri Tummala

“What are you really feeling?”

Assistant principal Victoria Waite oversees Branham’s newly enforced “See Something Say Something” program, which functions as an anonymous reporting system.

The program alerts administrators when a student is worried about being harmed, another harming themselves, or of any threats. Despite the anonymity, Waite said less than ten students have actually utilized the program.

Even though it’s collected a handful of responses, Waite doesn’t consider it ineffective, since it helps administrators identify struggling students. 

She also said that rate of highschool students admitting they are struggling with their mental health has also improved within the past five years. Rather than dismissing students’ emotions saying they’re “just being a teenager”, she’s seen real acknowledgment of the issue.

“I see students being willing to share if their friends are struggling, I see students coming up and sharing that they’re struggling. Its a testament to the fact that people feel safe to share on our campus,” she said. 

Yet, Waite said that teenagers often stuggle to identiy what they’re truly feeling, leading them to take phrases like ‘I want to kill myself’ less serously than it is. 

“There’a a sense (that) it’s just another thing to say to show that you’re exasperated or that you’re frustrated… But what are you really feeling? Are you feeling upset? Are you feeling frustrated? Are you tired?” What is the emotion you’re feeling versus throwing around quotes that can be triggering for people,’ she said.

As an administrator, Waite said while students can hear the phrase and ignore it, she has to follow up, despite how obvious the intention may seem. School officials have the responsibility to check in with students, which she said can mean reaching out to medical staff and parents to assess their risk.

“Our number one job is to make sure that people are safe on this campus,” Waite said. 

It depletes administrator resources when students abuse the phrase.

“We need more people to say out loud ‘hey I need help’ or ‘I think my friend is struggling right now.’ That’s how we get to them, but the help really ends if we throw around those terms,”

Waite said. “I know that a lot of people are hyperbolic. But think about the power of your words, identify how you’re feeling, and not just say some throwaway statement.We need to be more mindful of our words, so that when people really do need it, people are being heard and seen.”