Stop Saying “Committed” Suicide

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.

 

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24 Comments

    • miws
    • November 16, 2012
    • Reply

    Thank you for this perspective.

    Just over 40 years ago, my Father died by suicide, as did a childhood friend of mine, nearly nine years later.

    In all that time, it never occurred to me how inaccurate, and inappropriate, the term “committed suicide” seemed.

    Simply reading this article, has opened my eyes….

    Mike

      • admin
      • November 16, 2012
      • Reply

      Mike, Thank you for sharing and commenting. So very sorry that you have lost two people to suicide. I’m glad this post helped you.

    • Angela Maki
    • November 16, 2012
    • Reply

    This is a great resource you have created Erin! Never though how those words could affect people. You are such a strong person. Thanks for posting this.

      • admin
      • November 16, 2012
      • Reply

      Thanks Ang, for being there from the very beginning! I appreciate your support!

  1. You have a true gift for writing and helping others understand. You have taught me so much, and every day I learn more. Thank you for being so willing to share Evan’s story and to keep educating all of us. Your strength and passion is inspiring.

    • Erin
    • November 20, 2012
    • Reply

    Thanks, Rachael, for being a great teacher and listener!

    • Brycen
    • November 24, 2012
    • Reply

    I think about all the words and phrases that are used in every day conversations that can be very hurtful to survivors of all trauma. We should all think before we speak. It takes little effort to change our words yet still get your point across.

      • Erin
      • November 26, 2012
      • Reply

      Amen! Thanks for commenting Brycen.

    • Lisa
    • December 4, 2012
    • Reply

    Hi Erin, I know you do not know me, but I went to School with Brycen (HS, and CWU), and am good friends with Lindsay and Darin. Thank you for all you do for Suicide Prevention. I have walked and fundraised for 2 of the Seattle walks. Let me know when the next walk and I will join.

      • Erin
      • December 4, 2012
      • Reply

      Thanks Lisa! So glad you have support and purpose in the walks, yet so sorry for the reasons that you have come to AFSP. By walking we are doing great things in memory of our loved ones! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • JB
    • December 4, 2012
    • Reply

    Powerful article Erin.

    THank you for writing and educating.

      • Erin
      • December 5, 2012
      • Reply

      Thanks JB!

    • Syndog
    • April 12, 2013
    • Reply

    I’m going to get blasted pretty hard for this, but…

    The truth is, you can change the words, but their horrific meaning remains. Altering the vernacular will not undo what happened, nor will it salve the pain and trauma of those whose loved ones take such actions. Any attempt to do so in this manner will fail, and this new phrase you so boldly tout will eventually fall out of favor as well, labeled as crass and sorely misrepresentative of the true issue every bit as much as the old phrase you now revile. This is a perpetual cycle, as it is impossible to correctly represent something so beyond representation by any measure of language.

    All this does is shift focus from those who are in dire need of help, and places it on those who would quibble over terminology in the wake of something that is patently not about them. Frankly, I find that reprehensible. If you’re going to take a stand on something that counts, make sure it counts for those who need it — really need it — more than it counts as a statement about yourself. Only then will you touch on the true labor and bravery of activism.

      • Erin
      • April 15, 2013
      • Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Hopefully changing something as simple as the way we talk about suicide will ultimately change the stigma – encouraging vulnerable people to seek help.

    • Monique
    • April 12, 2013
    • Reply

    I suffer from depression misdiagnosised should be bipolar but the doctors wont listen to me. I have tried 3 times to leave this place. I can not tell you how horrible it is to be in that place. Unless someone kills themselves trying to run from something horrible they did please don’t be angry at your loved ones that saw no other way. You are so low and confused, there is no way to explain the hurt you feel at the moment right before you do it however you do it. For me it was taking bottles of pills, others with a gun, ect.

    The most important thing is to get these know it all doctors to listen to their patients! I have Fibromyalgia, Interstitual Cystitis, Deg Disc Disease, Torn Disc in my back along with all my emtional stuff or should I say chemical imbalance. Had to fight to get all the doctors I saw to listen to me. I was always right too! Was an Oncology nurse before I got sick (totally disabled) in 2004. I know my body cause I live in it! THEY NEED TO LISTEN SO THEY CORRECTLY DX US AND GIVE US THE CORRECT MEDS. But, it wont happen cause their poor little egos gets bruised and toes stepped on. They don’t like that. SHAME

      • Erin
      • April 15, 2013
      • Reply

      Monique, I am thinking of you and hope that you are getting treatment that is right for you. Please Stay well and stay with us, and call 1-800-273-TALK when you are thinking about hurting yourself. Thank you for speaking out for those that are suffering. Love, Erin

    • Lindsey
    • April 22, 2013
    • Reply

    Hi Erin,
    Great post. I never knew this terminology was incorrect, and feel ignorant for using this term for so long. Thank you for educating me. I admire you for your strength in writing this blog and for helping so many people. It’s very inspiring.
    Lindsey

      • Erin
      • April 23, 2013
      • Reply

      Thank you, Lindsey, for having an open mind. I appreciate your comment!

    • marie
    • May 4, 2014
    • Reply

    I’m wondering what your feelings are on saying that the person “killed him/herself”. Or for being more direct, and giving the actual cause of death – he shot himself, she overdosed, he stepped in front of a train, for example. That is the reality, as horrible it sounds. It doesn’t discount the underlying mental illness and doesn’t blame the deceased. It’s just an accurate representation of the incident. I would not want to hurt someone’s feelings by saying the “wrong thing” about their loved one, but at the same time I don’t see how it’s wrong to talk about the facts.

    • Christine Greathead
    • January 22, 2015
    • Reply

    Recently I heard the Deputy Prime Minister use this offensive language. He was being interviewed for Radio 4 Today’s Programme, I was encouraged by his plans to improve Mental Health Services, yet amazed that he used the word ‘commit’. I intend to write to him.

    • Jenny
    • February 27, 2015
    • Reply

    My father decided to leave in 2010, I too never thought about how we say it until I had to explain or tell others what happened to my Dad. I REFUSE to say “commit” suicide, in fact, I don’t even like to use the word suicide. He didn’t “take” his own life because that implies like he took something that didn’t belong to him. I am still searching for a word or term that gets the meaning across and conveys how I feel about it. I’m not angry with him. I just miss him.

      • Erin
      • March 12, 2015
      • Reply

      Jenny, I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. Thank you for opening up and sharing how you feel about his suicide. I hope that you can find some peace and comfort in the words we use to talk about suicide.

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