I try to not take too much to heart when people say something insensitive, but there is a common phrase that does upset me each and every time. “[Name] committed suicide”. I hate that term, “committed” brings to mind that the person did something bad willfully – they committed self murder, they committed theft of life, they committed a sin.
As defined by the dictionary the word Commit means: to perpetrate or carry out (a mistake, crime, or immoral act). For example: “he committed an uncharacteristic error”. Common synonyms for the word include: perpetrate, be to blame for, be guilty of, and to be responsible for.
To me, none of the above sound right to describe someone whose life has ended by suicide. To commit sounds like it was something deliberately done wrong, most people who die by suicide are overrun by the mental disease that has suicidal thoughts as a symptom. They do not willfully choose to take their life, a healthy brain would not think that way. They are not committing a crime, they are reaching the worst of their illness, their lives are consumed by the disease, and the symptom of despair.
I say “died from suicide”, to me it is the same as someone who maybe “died from cancer”, or “died from complications of influenza”. Suicide is the culmination of a potentially fatal disease like any other, and the end result for this particular person was sadly death.
I have experienced these feelings, the symptom of my own mental health issues, as I’ve batted through anxiety disorders, depression, and PTSD – my own illnesses convinced me that death was the only available option. I know I’m not alone, thousands of others around the world each day are fighting these thoughts themselves, the product of our brain’s chemistry being unmanaged.
While it may seem silly to some for me to be upset by a technical term, suicide has long held deep seated shame, shame that stops those surviving their attempts from getting help, and shame that stops those who are left behind when their loved one completes and dies by suicide finding the support they need too. How we talk about suicide is important!
Almost everyone will know someone who has died from suicide, but it seems to be kept so quiet due to that shame that they did something sinful and wrong – we do not talk about them. They were more than the sum of their illness, they were more than the cause of their death, they were beautiful but tortured people who need to live on in our memories and not have their lives gone in vain.
Sadly I have known several beautiful people who had the same illnesses as myself, illnesses that ultimately caused death. Not one of those people were criminals, and it shouldn’t be insinuated that they are by labeling their death in a similar way.
For me personally, my brothers death from suicide has helped me to keep strong when my own mental health was at it’s worst. Losing him made me realise how much my illness was lying to me about needing to give up. I remembered the pain it caused the family that was left behind, I recalled the shame and that no one talked about him anymore, and it made me determined to not let my disease take control of my actions.
There are lessons we can learn if we talk about those who have lost their battle, if we remember them for who they were outside of their depression, anxiety, and suicidal death, because at the end of the day they were people who someone loved and misses.
Until we decriminalize the terms we use when talking about mental illness and especially suicide, the stigma will always remain.