The Language of Suicide

Yesterday, I talked about how we need to open up about suicide, how we need to talk more about mental health. Today, I want to make sure we are talking about it using the right language. 

Many people say ‘committed suicide,’ implying that it is a choice. It isn’t. Suicide is symptom of mental illness and we should be saying ‘died by suicide.’ The fact that it is a voluntary action does not make it a choice, not given the darkness that is clouding the  mind of someone who is suffering. 

Similarly, we should stop saying failed suicide attempt. These people are suicide survivors. Indeed, some who have survived have said that the moment they set in motion their suicide attempt they regretted it. Take for example Kevin Hines, one of the few people to survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He said the moment his hands left the rails he regretted the decision, and wanted nothing more than to survive. Which he amazingly did. 

Lastly, we joke too often about how we would rather die than do something we’re dreading. Or else we say something like, “I think I’d die from embarrassment.” Frankly, the English language is robust enough that I am sure you can think of another way to say it. And you really should. 

I get that many of these phrases have become so commonplace that even the best of us might slip up from time to time. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to be better. Breaking the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness doesn’t just mean talking about it. It means talking about it in the right way. And hopefully, moving forward, that is what we start to do.

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