Gun emoji change is deeper than politicsBy Helmi Henkin | 09/08/2016 10:30pm
Apple has been the subject of much buzz since they announced that, as part of the iOS10 software update, the pistol emoji would be replaced with a bright green squirt gun. People worldwide discussed the potential motive behind this change, often suggesting that Apple implemented it in order to make a statement about gun control following the Orlando shooting this summer. Many lauded the tech giant for their powerful political move while some took offense to this virtual infringement on their Second Amendment rights. I believe usage of the pistol emoji to joke about shooting others is wildly inappropriate, though I am most grateful for the alteration of this icon because I hope it will deter people from joking about shooting themselves.
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, 20 percent of people ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition and suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 15-24. Depression is more common than most people realize, yet because of the negative societal stigma surrounding mental illness, it remains a taboo topic and a struggle that many do not feel comfortable disclosing to even their closest friends. Too often I hear my peers joke about how they want to jump off a building or in front of moving traffic because of a situation they are dreading. They lock eyes with me and mime putting a gun to their head and pulling the trigger, as if that is some universal sign for discontent rather than making light of a serious issue. On social media, I scroll past posts daily where users lament their problems and use “KMS” and the gun emoji as punctuation. Though this hyperbole is meant to add humor to a bad situation, it only adds to the pain that millions of people experience every day by belittling their inner turmoil.
Since mental health is something we are socialized to keep mum about, it is difficult to discern how joking about suicide will affect the audience of those punchlines. People you see every day may have lost someone close to them by suicide, they may have attempted to end their own life in the past, or they may be privately grappling with passive or active suicidal ideation. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a perfect opportunity to reflect on how you are contributing to the conversation surrounding mental illness. The next time you are stressed, think about your words before you say them. No one asks to be depressed and no one wants to be in such a dark place that leaving this earth is the only option they see as viable. Try and be there for your loved ones if they open up to you about feeling hopeless. If you are struggling, remember that you are not alone and it will get better, and please reach out for help if you need it.
Helmi Henkin is a sophomore majoring psychology and French.