Would you ever say that your loved one “committed” cancer or “committed” a heart attack? Sounds strange, right? This is how it feels to hear people say that your loved one “committed” suicide; implying that they should be blamed for the illness that ended thier life.
Until my brother’s death in February 2010, I had no awareness for the language used to describe suicide. But now when I hear “committed suicide,” it feels like nails on a chalkboard; I literally shudder.
Historically, suicide was treated as a criminal act in many parts of the world. Thank goodness the laws have changed, but our language has not caught up. The shame associated with the committal of a crime remains attached to suicide, like a painful residue. But I do not own any shame for how my brother died. He did not commit a crime. He resorted to suicide, which he perceived in his unwell mind to be the only possible solution to end his suffering caused by a very dark and deep depression. In fact, 90% of people who die by suicide – repeat: die by suicide (this is the correct language) – have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death, most commonly depression.
So please, stop saying committed suicide. Think of how you would describe that you lost someone to any other illness. Like cancer or heart disease, suicide is a public health issue. By adjusting our language around suicide, we can change its stigma and reduce the shame carried by some survivors of suicide.