Why Words Matter in Suicide Prevention
Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
September is suicide prevention month. I find it remarkable that just two years ago I barely noticed it was suicide prevention month. In fact, I don’t think I noticed at all. For me September was Labor Day camping, back to school, Fall leaves, pumpkin spice and everything nice.
On January 18th 2016, my dear friend of 20 years died by suicide. Since that time, I became acutely aware of not only needing a suicide prevention month like September, but the desperate need we have for this country to take mental health seriously. Mental health disorders kill people. It seems the prevailing dogma has been to blame the person lost to suicide. We say things like they “committed” suicide. We talk about how they fought “demons.”
These words may seem harmless, but words matter, just like my friend mattered; and I refuse to be quiet. Let’s take a person battling a physical illness. If they are to die from it, we don’t say they committed death. We blame the illness. If they are lucky enough to live, we (rightfully) talk about how strong they were for winning the battle. Why do we refuse then to do the same with mental illness? Mental illness affects a person’s brain. It affects thought processes and mood. It can distort reality. Many with mental illness categorize their struggle as a “battle” they fight every day — but instead of being called strong, society says they are “weak.”
There’s a lot of work to be done as we all know in regards to mental health care, but it starts here.
Imagine how perspective might change and the urgency people would feel when instead of blaming the person struggling and saying they “committed suicide” we say something even bolder. Depression killed them. Bipolar killed them. Do these statements shock you? If they do, ask yourself why?
What if, instead of saying they couldn’t fight their “demons” any longer, we call it what it is and say they lost their battle with mental illness. What if, instead of implying people with mental illness are “weak,” we celebrate them for being strong. We encourage them to go on because we recognize they find an inner strength every day. Imagine then, when we hear when loved and celebrated people like Robin Williams, Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell die, the world will not respond with “How could they do it?” or “Why did they do it?” and instead respond like they would if it were any other illness or tragedy that caused death. If this happens, perspective will shift. Suicide will no longer be blamed on the person struggling and mental illness will be treated seriously like any other illness that has the ability to cause death.
Mental health matters.
My friend mattered.
September is suicide awareness month. Reach out to someone who is struggling. You may just save a life.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Photo via contributor.