Let’s not be delicate; suicide is a really, really hard topic. It affects so many people, whether they’ve lost a loved on to suicide or survived it. It is a particularly difficult topic due to the lack of education on the subject, the surrounding stigma, and most importantly: the language we use.
Now, lots of people have touched on the topic of the language of suicide so I surely don’t claim to have thought this up on my own. However, it is something I’d like to address on this platform.
So, what’s wrong with the way we talk about suicide? Well, well, well, reader. There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the word of the hour:
We still use the phrase “committed suicide” when speaking about someone who has lost their life to suicide. There’s so many reasons why that’s not only damaging, but just outright archaic.
We say that people commit crimes. Suicide is not a crime. Suicide is a way of coping when your brain tells you there’s no way up, out, or back. Stay with me, reader, I’m not saying suicide is a good thing. I am attempting to point out that suicide is a deep and personal expression of pain. Is it a crime to want your suffering to end? I don’t think so. Pain can often be unavoidable, suffering is different that way. People who are suffering may not have the tools or skills to cope through and at that point the only answer seems to be ending their own life.
Suicide is a way that someone’s life has ended. We would never say that someone “committed drowning”. Not only is it clunky grammatically, it incriminates the act of drowning which we all know is not a crime. So, why do we incriminate suicide?
Easy, it was a sin in the eyes of certain belief systems which we still operate so heavily on today. A lot of our beliefs around right and wrong come from old ideas that could use some revisiting.
Suicide is not a sin. Neither is surviving suicide. Individuals who survive suicide face a lot of adversity and stigma around their experience with suicide. They hear messages from the media, and maybe friends or family about how what they were selfish, that they are weak. These are all untrue. Myths, if you will. People who have survived and died by suicide had the strength to endure their pain or suffering for as long as they did. No one tries to end their life for frivolous reason. There has to be real pain there for such a drastic measure. So, if you know of someone who has survived suicide, don’t think about their weakness. Think about how strong that person must be to persevere through that pain. I would also like to acknowledge those who lost their fight with mental illness and send my sincerest thoughts to their friends and families.
What should I say instead?
Great question, reader. Many mental health professionals are switching their language pertaining to suicide. You may have noticed me using the phrase “died by suicide”. This is a much gentler and actively destigmatizing
term. It removes the suggestion of crime or wrong-doing from the act of suicide. It also mourns the loss of lives to suicide instead of condemning them. All in all, changing your language is a process, and it takes a little time. However, it wont happen if no one tries.