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Why "check on your strong friends" is bullshit

TW: discussions of suicide

Recently, famous DJ Stephen 'tWitch' Boss died by suicide. His death came only a day after posting what seemed to be a playful moment of joy with his wife and child to his Tik Tok account. Suicide is almost always seen as unexpected but with his seeming to be in direct contrast with what the world last saw of him, people are reeling and the rallying cries have ramped up, "CHECK ON YOUR STRONG FRIEND!"

My peeve with this is that most people don't actually make space for their strong friend to be anything but strong. I mean, they quite literally have named them their "strong friend." They mean it as a compliment, but by labeling their friend this way it does the work of separating that friend from their humanity. It strips them of an ability to be anything but strong. So, when they ask that friend how they are and they say, "I'm alright, how are you?" they won't counter with "only alright?" or any other form of curiosity. They won't pay attention to the tone, inflection, or diversion from their strong friend. Instead, they'll dive right into their own stuff, all while patting themselves on the back for having checked on them. If their strong friend is emotionally vulnerable enough to share that they are struggling a common response is, "you're so strong, you'll get through this."

The phrase "check on your strong friends" seems to become especially loud as a catchphrase during the final holiday season in the United States. I want us to be mindful that words matter and to take more seriously what it means to be in real community with each other. Stephen 'tWitch' Boss may have been someone's "strong friend" but he was also someone's father, husband, son, colleague, a dancer, famous DJ, and much more we don't know about. My brother was someone's son, uncle, friend, cousin, a poet, rapper, someone living with mental illness, a lover, fighter, etc. etc. etc. People we see as friends deserve to be seen in their wholeness not just the parts that are easy for us to digest, manage, or that allow us to remain comfortable. Make space for your strong friends humanity. An easy way to start? Stop calling them fucking strong. *If you or someone you love are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide call 844-493-TALK (8255) or text "TALK" to 38255. If you're BIPOC you can call 800-604-5481.*

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