Gallows Humor and The Furman Advantage

At least 40% of students have gone to the counseling center during their four years at Furman. We host a mental health awareness week at Furman once a semester. Yet, many Furman students likely struggle with undiagnosed mental illnesses caused by or related to undue academic stress caused by the university curriculum. However, because so many of us feel this way, it goes practically unnoticed by peers. 

 

Let’s imagine a scenario:

You’re with your friends and face a minor inconvenience. In response, you say “ugh, just kill me.” Your friends laugh and say, “I’ve got rope in my room!” Everyone laughs and carries on with their day. 

Most millennial and Generation Z readers won’t find anything wrong with this situation. This humor centering around death and suicide, known as Gallows Humor, is prolific in our conversations, and we don’t even think about it. 

Fun Fact: this humor is actually a kind of suicidal ideation. 

“But Cassidy, it’s just a joke. I don’t mean it!” I’m happy for you, but you are validating someone else’s suicidal ideation. You are normalizing their calls for help. We’ve got to stop saying things like this. 

I hear my friends say things like this all the time. They say they’re fine. Are they? If these the jokes that they’re coming up with, are they really okay?

In a similar vein, another thing I hear a lot is, “I’m just ready to be done. I just want to go away and not exist anymore for a bit”. This is also suicidal ideation. 

 

We say that we are looking out for student’s mental health but so many are still suffering. There’s an obscene amount of stress on the students at this school and people don’t talk about it enough. We need to do a better job for our students.

It’s great that so many students feel safe going to the counseling center, but why should that many need to? 40% is twice the national average for people living with mental illness.I don’t think that we draw in more people with mental illnesses than other schools; I think that the rigor and stress put on students here is ridiculous, which can contribute to the development of a disorder during their time here. Granted, many difficult schools suffer from a similar problem, and we are probably doing much better than a lot of places facing a similar situation. 

I know at least 3 people who had to pull of one semester at Furman due to their mental health alone. We need to create a cultural shift at this school that allows students to handle their stresses in a healthy way. Puppies once a month and yoga during finals doesn’t cut it. Many students turn to alcohol or other drugs to cope with their overwhelming burnout. I personally don’t know what the solution is.

Perhaps not allowing professors to assign work over breaks would allow students to recuperate, or making course curriculums more evenly paced so there isn’t a huge amount of work at the end of the semester? I’m not sure. I just know that students should not be sacrificing their health for the sake of their schoolwork.