For the past years I have been trying to move my students away from saying ‘committed suicide,’ which is rather difficult because in many of their mother tongues, the phrase is still ‘commit suicide’. It is very difficult to unlearn something that has been drummed into you for years.
Mental ill-health and suicide historically carry with them great stigma. Ending one’s life is a grave sin in many religions, and a crime in many countries. Even today, suicide and unsuccessful suicide attempts are crimes in about half the world’s countries, even if many of them do not actively enforce it. So the verb used is often ‘commit’ because we commit crimes (murder/fraud/robbery/murder etc) and sin (commit adultery). Talking about suicide as though it is sinful and criminal perpetuates the shame, blame, discomfort, discrimination, and stigma around it, and prevents people from seeking help or talking about it.
Mental illness is an illness just as real as physical illness, and using the verb ‘commit suicide’ takes away the emphasis on the illness and places it on the person. It makes the person a perpetrator of a crime rather than the victim of an illness. This discriminatory language means that some people may not seek help when they need it.
In these awful Coronavirus times, more people are suffering from stress, and depression. It is no wonder, considering that many people will lose their jobs, many companies will go bankrupt, many relationships will fail. Some experts say there has been a rise in domestic abuse and drinking problems, and predict rising suicide rates.
If you would like to work towards dismantling the stigma around suicide, and show compassion to the loved ones of someone who has ended their life, here are some phrases to use:
And if you have suicidal thoughts, please contact your local suicide hotline or a health professional. There is help to be had.