Words matter. The words we choose can mean the difference between someone feeling heard and respected, or feeling judged and demeaned. The more serious the topic, the more we should be careful in how we choose our words.
No topic is more serious than suicide. And yet stigma remains around the issue of suicide and mental health in general. One of the prime examples of this stigma is the common use of the phrase “committed suicide.” Another example is “suicided.”
The word “commit” or “committed” creates the impression that suicide is a crime or is somehow similar to a criminal offense. According to Cornell Law School, “Suicide is no longer considered a crime in the United States; however, some states have attempted suicide listed as a crime in their criminal statutes.”
Remove the word ‘committed’
A more neutral way to refer to suicide is to say that a person “died by suicide.” This takes the connotation of blame and shame that comes with the word “committed” out of the equation. Alternatively, “suicide death,” is less dehumanizing than “suicided.”
“People who are suicidal or died by suicide deserve to be treated with respect. These are people experiencing profound mental pain. They are people with mental illness,” said Dr. Justin Schoen, Marshfield Clinic Health System psychiatrist. “Using the phrase ‘committed suicide’ only adds to unhealthy stigma and discussion around mental health, which is already plagued by so many misconceptions.”
It’s about respect
Referring to suicide in a more neutral fashion is important to honor the memory of those we have lost to suicide, to respect those who have attempted suicide and survived, and all the family and friends of someone who died by suicide.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. The direct number for the National Suicide Prevention Line is 1- 800-273-8255. We are also here to help at Marshfield Clinic Health System.