I understand the phrase has been around a long time. It’s even the headline in my most popular article (I didn’t write that phrase in that headline, by the way*).
Saying, ‘committed suicide’ implies crime
Suicide is not a criminal act like murder or a home invasion, but often the result of a treatable brain disease such as depression, addiction, or bipolar disorder or even a physical trauma such as a head injury.
“Committed suicide” is, quite frankly, an insensitive phrase even if you don’t mean it that way.
It makes me cringe now, although I used to use the phrase myself.
Charles’ suicide was the result of withdrawal from heroin that coincided with a major depressive episode. He didn’t want to end his life, he wanted to stop his endless and inescapable pain. In that state of mind he didn’t see any other option.
However distorted this might seem to you, my son’s suicide was not a crime. It was not a punishment meant to hurt me as a parent.
It was the result of his feeling isolated, ashamed and worthless. And while I have felt a devastating sense of loss and pain, I have never felt shame. I am proud to have been Charles’ mom.
Due to the widespread misunderstanding of what suicide really is, it’s often viewed as a ‘less noble’ way to lose a loved one than losing one to something like cancer or heart failure. This perpetuates the shame and stigma of suicide as a cause of death and it makes it harder for families to talk about and heal after losing a loved one to suicide.
Died by suicide
This is the current accepted phrase.
Other acceptable phrases are:
- He took his life
- She died by suicide
- He killed himself
- She suicided (I know it sounds weird because we are not used to it.)
- In the case of a person who identifies with the pronoun “they” you’d sub that in
By simply being aware of your language, you can make the transition. Correct yourself out loud in conversation if you use the outdated phrase, then forgive yourself and understand this change is a process.
To take it one step further, ask journalists in the online comments section to use the phrase “died by suicide” in their articles. We needn’t word shame others who use it. After all, it’s been part of our language for hundreds of years now. We need only point out why we have made the change ourselves. (Reporting and media guidelines here.)
Saying it right changes perception
This change in the language may seem like a small thing.
It changes the frame of reference from one of a shameful criminal act, to that of an act of desperation and loss of hope. Once there is more understanding, there is an opportunity to save lives in what is a treatable condition.
That’s monumental. And it’s an act of kindness that shows you care.
Join me in recognizing those who struggle to find a reason to live every day, honor those who we have lost to suicide, and bring awareness to a cause of death that has tripled since 1999.
I am asking for your help because I can’t change this by myself.
In honor of my son Charles’ memory and our family’s loss, I ask you to make the change to “died by suicide” and share this article to inspire others to do the same.