No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter


Humor has a time and place. It’s an art, not a science, and can be therapeutic at times. It also needs to be done carefully.

Concerning jokes about mental illness and seeking therapy, especially so. Let me explain where I come from.

I have talked before, though never at any particular length, about the 2005 collision at sea on the USS Philadelphia. One of the immediate repercussions was losing some members of the crew who would no longer voluntarily go to sea. The event was just too traumatizing and they were sent home to be reassigned. Once we got underway again, those crewmen were the butt of many jokes (never by me, at any measure) for the following weeks. They were denigrated as not “real men” for being unable to tough it out and do their jobs. They were seen as weak for seeking mental self-care and removing themselves from a high-stress situation.

That incident is far from isolated in the military, and definitely not linked to one generation or decade in time. The history of each service is rife with people who have experienced trauma – shell shock, battle fatigue, soldier’s heart, PTSD, etc – but don’t seek therapy or assistance because they fear that it makes them appear weak in one way or another. It has ended relationships, careers, and lives in far too many cases.

It’s endemic in our society. Only recently have I noticed a trend of people openly talking about therapy and mental self-care. Before then – and still today – it was hush-hush for fear of retaliation by family, friends, and employers.

The peer pressure to avoid the appearance of weakness for seeking help is totally real. I’ve been down that road myself, and I know many more who walked it over the years.

I mean, it’s been fourteen years for me and I’m starting to come to terms with it. Imagine those around you – who you interact with on a daily basis – who carry that burden all the time.

It’s why I cringe when I see comments from people (especially friends) that use treatment as a punchline. From telling people who don’t agree with a particular stance that they need mental help to dismissing an opinion as a result of “not taking meds,” it’s a potential manifestation of that pressure. Even if it’s not intentional.

Sometimes humor inflicts damage. That damage can override the ability to “just get over it” or take a joke. It can even also be deadly.

All I’m asking is that people be more careful with their words and more mindful of their actions. Don’t treat mental illness or treatment of it as a targeted punchline to simply shut someone up. Treat the topic with the seriousness it deserves and find another way to make the point.


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