I was watching It’s a Wonderful Life last night. Clarence and George discussed committing suicide. Since my film project and web page revolve around the topic of suicide, and my mission is to encourage people to speak about it, I plan to share some tips I’ve learned along the way to help keep conversations productive.
The phrase “commit suicide” has fallen out of favor as it connotes a criminal act. The preferred terms now are now grammatically appropriate versions of “died by suicide,” “took their life,” or “killed themselves.”
Research shows that over 90% of people who die this way have an active mental illness at the time of death (short term, long term, situational, undiagnosed, diagnosed. (1) We don’t refer to people who die of physical illnesses as having “committed cancer” or “committed heart failure.”
I only learned this information about the language two years ago and I still have a hard time not using the old-school phrase. Usually it comes out when I am in the middle of telling my own story because since 1985 my narrative used “committed suicide” to describe my mother’s death. I find, however, when I do public speaking or give a presentation for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I will use the new preferred language. So just being aware does actually help shift a person’s language, which, in turn, reduces the stigma and shame surrounding suicide. It’s a process, but if you’ve read this, you will now likely notice how often the phrase pops up in sit-coms, news resources, books, jokes, etc.
Use your words for good.