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Why I React So Strongly to the Phrase 'Committed Suicide'

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Why do the words “committed suicide” in a news story stir such deep feelings for me and maybe for others who have lived through this loss?

When my son died by suicide, I was totally unprepared for the reactions from those around me.

“I thought you were such a good family,” one neighbor said.

“You couldn’t save your own son,” a message written to our family in a sympathy card. “How could he do this to you?”

My 97-year-old stepmother made the comment that most surprised and most supported me.

“Something had become unbearable for Andrew and we can understand that for him, can’t we?” she said.

In one sentence, she said everything that I needed to hear, capturing my exact feelings. Until her comment, I had been struggling to find words that captured my deep feelings about Andrew’s ending.

My son battled with despair probably longer than any of us knew.

Research documents that an interpersonal crisis can trigger a suicidal crisis. Psychic pain becomes a source for distorting cognitive function. Acute personal anguish can create mental pressure so great that “meaningful thought” gives way to thoughts like,“I am a disappointment,” or “They are better off without me.”

“I am not strong enough,” my son wrote. And, my heart was broken.

I consistently feel that my son’s battle with depression goes unrecognized in the words “committed suicide.”

Now when I read a news story in which someone died by suicide and I see the words “committed suicide” in print, I take action.

I look for the comment section at the end of the news story and I submit a comment.

“Please consider using the language ‘died by suicide,'” I began in a comment to the New York Times, “This language conveys understanding that suicide is a serious mental health crisis. Construing the enormity of this struggle as a ‘crime’ only further alienates us from all hope of achieving the kind of empathy needed to provide help for families and individuals in this crisis.”

Likewise, when I find a story that includes the wording “died by suicide,” I thank the publication for using this language.

“Thank you for using the words ‘died by suicide’ to report this sad loss.” I write.  “This honors the suicidal person, their struggle and their ending at the same time.”

One local news source, The Colorado Sun, thanked me, saying that they would  change their language to use the words “died by suicide” when reporting a suicide loss.

A response like this encourages me.

For me, this is a step.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Getty image via diane39

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