Just a thought… Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them. [Dalai Lama]
A quick update on the book for you (which has been out one month, as of today): as you can see on the banner on my FB page and on Twitter, there is now a release date for the audio version of Mourning Has Broken. I’ll have more about it, and the story of how it came to be, next month, but for now, I’m getting a lot of inquiries as to whether I voiced it. In two words: heck, yes! I honestly cannot imagine letting anyone else do this. And Rob produced it. That’s all I’ll say about that, right now, except that it is available for pre-order.
And if you’ve already read the book, please take a moment to leave a review either at amazon.ca or at chaptersindigo.ca and let other potential purchasers know what you thought. I so appreciate that and am grateful for the reviews that have already been left. And you don’t have to have purchased the book through those two websites or their stores in order to have your voice heard. Something else I learned through this entire process!
Speaking of the learning process, there is something that I touch upon in Mourning Has Broken but that I’d like to take a moment to shine a light on today. It jumped out at me on the weekend and I wonder if we could discuss the verb we use when we talk about suicide. (Look, I gave you a few laughs last week, stick with me here!)
The terminology I refer to was brought to my attention on the weekend thanks to a Miami Herald article about a second Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school student who had committed suicide, one year after the Parkland, Florida attack that killed 17. Then I read yesterday of a parent of one of the children who died in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting also committing suicide.
And that’s when – apart from the horror of the trauma that caused these three deaths – something jumped out at me: the fact that we are still using the outdated and offensive terminology commit when we talk about death.
I realize these stories emanated from the United States, but I wanted to look into it a little bit here on our home turf. Suicide in Canada has not been a crime since the early 1970s. (Physician-assisted suicide was decriminalized in 2015.) Before 1972, dying by or attempting suicide was a criminal offence. But that is no longer the case. You may think that to take your own life is a sin, and that’s up to you and your belief system.
But a newspaper like the Miami Herald – any news publication of note, for that matter – should know that the terminology has changed. That second student died by suicide or completed suicide. Saying committed suicide carries with it a whole set of implications and judgments of which many of us are still only becoming aware. (I still hear those two words together on Law and Order: SVU and I wonder how it is that writers on a prominent show such as that have yet to get the memo.)
You may be sighing, Oh, what next? or decrying some sort of political correctness or lack of logic in the ever-changing landscape of our lexicon. But hear me out.
First off, what some see as political correctness can often be an effort to alleviate the pain and offence that some antiquated terms and phrases have carried. So let’s get over that. Secondly, I’ve been in communication with a great many bereaved parents and family members who have lost loved ones to suicide. Only one, a fairly recent email from a widow, used the word commit to describe the loss of someone close to her when it came to dying by suicide. That did not escape my attention. Most chose not to.
Here are a few paragraphs that can sum up the reasoning behind this gentle plea for a change to the way we talk about this, still the most (unfairly) stigmatized form of loss of life. This comes from BeyondBlue.org.au, an Australian website. And I think it applies no matter where in the world you are:
There is one simple thing all of us can do to help reduce the stigma around suicide. That is, stop using the c’ word. People don’t commit suicide.
It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when suicide was considered a crime. It’s even harder to believe that it wasn’t that long ago. In Victoria, it was only with the Crimes Act of 1958 that attempting suicide was no longer recognised as a criminal act. Before this, if a person took their own life, they could be refused a funeral or even have their possessions confiscated. Not to mention the scrutiny their family or friends were left to carry.
The criminal associations with suicide might be gone, but using the phrase committed suicide’ is still common.
So why shouldn’t we use the ‘c word’ when it comes to suicide?
Susan Beaton, a Suicide Prevention Adviser in her research report on suicide and language, sums it up well: We now live in a time when we seek to understand people who experience suicidal ideation, behaviours and attempts, and to treat them with compassion rather than condemn them. Part of this is to use appropriate, non-stigmatising terminology when referring to suicide.
Instead of saying the word ‘committed,’ try and use phrases like ‘took their own life’ or ‘died by suicide.’
Beyond Blue research shows that people at risk of suicide want those close to them to listen and show they care. Having conversations and understanding their situation or at least trying to is key.
Mental health literacy has come a long way in the past few decades. If you’re still using the c’ word, it’s time to update your vocab. It might seem like a small slip of the tongue to you, but it can have a serious isolating impact on someone going through a difficult time.
Losing someone to suicide, or coming from a place where you were ready to die by suicide, is hard enough. Can we perhaps find the compassion to change the way we talk about it? Maybe that, too, will help to throw just a little more light on depression and mental health issues.
Thank you. I just wanted to share that with you. I know many of us have never, ever considered how committed may land on the heart of someone who’s been touched by suicide. But how do we learn about anything if we keep so much in the shadows, right?