Content warning: Mentions of self-harm and suicide

I can’t quite remember when morbidity became a “thing.” Was it before or after rainy day dodgeball games in the middle school gymnasium? Was it during our first finals season of freshman year? Or maybe it was when we were busy running around trying to catch an Eevee in Pokémon Go. All I know is that by my sophomore year in high school, I would hear at least one suicide joke made amid the cackles of my sleep-deprived peers before recess had even started.

I made (read: make) them just as frequently as anyone else because sometimes, “This is so hard” just couldn’t capture my frustration as well as “Death would be easier” could. Soon enough, our generation had somehow glorified the concept of death while laughing at our shared experience. 

“I’d literally rather die than take this math test,” is tossed around at Mason Hall as easily as commentary on Michigan’s unpredictable weather.

“Do you think I’d get an extension on the Euchre project if I jumped off a cliff and broke both legs?” is followed up with a “Definitely not. You’d get an ‘I understand your situation’ email at most.” 

And “thoughts on just letting climate change win?” is the new and improved response to “What’s up?” Our generation is faced with such incredible levels of existential dread that sometime, somehow, expressing our concern begins to sound more and more like morbid standup comedy.

Whether or not these jokes should even be made is another issue entirely, but in examining why this form of humor is common among Millennials and Gen Z, we discover what exactly our morbidity attempts to obscure.

Starting from increasingly competitive college admissions and leading to sleepless nights during final season, the glorification of death has become a coping mechanism for people my age trying to find the silver lining amid the never-ending stressors. Gen Z has the highest rates of depression to date, stemming from unprecedented levels of academic, personal and financial stress. What seems ironic is the extent to which Millennials and Gen Z focus on mental health, or, at least, make the performative effort to focus on it.

For most of us, the completion of each midterm prompts a self care day: face masks, childhood movies (“How to Train Your Dragon” is a personal favorite) and comfort food. Mental health resources are made accessible to University students right alongside yoga classes and fun, stress-buster activities. From the “well-being breaks” that replaced spring break in the 2020-2021 school year to the LSA@Play posters that decorate each empty wall in Angell Hall, the University seems to have caught on to the new trend. Arguably, self-care has never been more advertised than it is today — so why do we still prefer dark humor to the other, more conventional coping mechanisms that are so readily pushed onto us? 

A deep dive into Reddit threads that deal with the topic of morbid humor has shed light on a few topics for me. It seems Millennials and Gen Z have been handed a rather rotten hand in life; whether it be the climate crisis, threats of world war, resource shortage, police brutality, inflation, student debt, political division or COVID-19 (and the list goes on), there is only so much young people can take before desensitization and the assumption of a bleak future creep in. And if our future is filled with polluted air and nuclear radiation and deeply polarized communities, why live to see it? The mutually agreed upon method of making light of this future has become our brand of dark humor: a manner of finding solace in shared resignation. 

But there seems to be a second component of this morbid humor. Millennials and Gen Z may not be reading the newspaper while sipping their morning coffee, but you can bet we spend hours scrolling through Instagram and Twitter before getting out of bed, between classes and between work. Much of the frankly insane amount of content we go through every day pertains to current events to some capacity. World War III memes taking digs at Putin have plagued my Instagram Explore page for weeks, interspersed between the political memescape and clips of Tom Holland with puppies.

Thus, we land at the second crux of dark humor: Morbid humor generated by the internet connects our generation in a way that, if used correctly, can create empathy and understanding. I was first introduced to Bertolt Brecht in my literary theory class — he was a bit of a theater kid — and Gen Z’s tendency toward satirizing death reminds me of his theory: theater (or morbid humor in our case) allows society to approach sensitive or problematic topics without the defensive mentality these topics usually provoke. Starting the conversation, even if it’s through entertainment, is the first step to solving society’s issues.

Perhaps this is how we can make sense of the mental health conundrum; our morbid jokes acknowledge the stressors in our lives, and this acknowledgement can actually lead to solutions. Discussions surrounding self care and therapy are far more prevalent in Gen Z than in any generation to come before, and for that, I applaud us. 

But dark humor, particularly surrounding suicide and mental health, can pose a rather large problem. How should we distinguish between camaraderie over an 11:59 p.m. deadline and a call for help? Where do we draw the line between jokes and overly insensitive remarks? Sometimes, it isn’t easy to tell. Especially when ‘kms’ has become as common as “lol” when texting a friend, and everyone you know has either depression or anxiety. It’s certainly not a question I’ve been able to answer, even after agonizing over whether noticing when my friend’s jokes about death stopped being jokes could have stopped his suicide attempt. 

I can see why morbid humor is so appealing: It’s a moment of shared experience, it’s an acknowledgement of the problems we will need to fix, it can even be comforting as a kind of escapist tool. Younger generations have certainly reversed at least part of the taboo nature of death by acknowledging that yes, humans have a 100% mortality rate and that yes, it can be okay to make jokes about death.

Reva Lalwani is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at