Monday, September 23, 2019

Committing to Better Use of Language - DAY 23

The language we use when we are talking about suicide matters. In some situations, subtle differences in language come down to more than just semantics. Often, language is the initial framework we use in order to categorize or interpret actions. In fact, this framework is one of the objectives of language itself.

Because suicide is so stigmatized, we often have trouble talking about it. Understanding the subtleties of the language we use or even knowing what to say, can be confusing. That being said - I will speak for many of us whose lives who have been touched by suicide:

Please stop saying 'committed suicide'.

I could go on and on about this. I could beg people to be more considerate, more thoughtful, more understanding, or to just educate themselves about the causes of suicide. Today though, I am not going to beg. Besides, all of those things are blog posts of their own. For the sake of this one, I will try to simplify.

Consider this: for survivors of suicide loss and for survivors of suicide attempts - the connotation (the definition itself) of the word 'committed' only serves to increase stigma and exacerbate pain:

past tense: committed; past participle: committed
  1. 1.
    carry out or perpetrate (a mistake, crime, or immoral act).

    "he committed an uncharacteristic error"

For most of us whose lives have been touched by suicide, hearing the term 'committed suicide' is hurtful.

I don't want to beg you to understand that we are in enough pain already. My hope is that our pain alone is enough to help you to reconsider the terminology you are using.

While I recognize this isn't always the case, the vast majority of those who have died by suicide had been dealing with mental illness. Therefore, the suicidality was a symptom of their illness. Because of this, it is inaccurate and somewhat cruel to use language that squarely places the blame for their death on an immoral act they were responsible for.

For those who are not dealing with mental health issues, we are often unable to comprehend the depth of pain that it can cause. And mental illness can also contribute to all of these things as well: a decrease in pain tolerance; an inability to understand long term consequences; and, a lack of impulse control. Put all those things together, and without adequate treatment mental illness becomes potentially fatal.

Please consider that mental illness is also about things that we, as a culture (and even scientifically) are only just beginning to understand. The impact of trauma, the subtle balance of chemical activity in the brain, the delicate nature of neural pathways and the impact on a person when those neural pathways are disturbed or broken. These things are the causes of potentially fatal mental illness. While we don't fully understand all of these causes (yet) - what we can say is that none of those things are the fault of the person who is suffering.

As a person who endures mental illness, let me put this even more clearly:

I did not choose to be ill. I do not want to be ill. Often, this illness hurts. Often, this illness breaks my own heart. Often, I am fearful that I will lose my own life to this illness. 

My life is spent constantly trying to address and manage the symptoms of my illness. Some days are better than others. But never, am I 'committing' my mental illness on you.

Sadly, oftentimes the thoughts that complicate my own suicidality are directly related to the language our culture uses. Specifically, if I was worthy of life, I would stop committing the crime of suffering from mental illness.

Mental illness is not the fault of the person who is suffering.  Please, see it for what it is and change your language accordingly.

We do not say 'he committed cancer.'
We do not say 'she committed heart disease'
We do not say 'he committed alzheimers'

Please stop saying that those who lost their lives to the symptoms of mental illness 'committed' suicide.

Please. Stop.

Here is language that is more appropriate:

They died by suicide.
They lost their life to suicide. 
Suicide was the cause of their death.

Or, to be even more accurate you could say: "They were mentally ill, and their illness was fatal."

Please stop indicting me and my loved ones and all of us who struggle with mental illness. Please stop criminalizing those of us who are struggling still, and those who have already lost their lives.

I don't want to beg you.

But I am begging you.

Please stop using the terminology: 'committed' suicide.