I hear and read too often people using the term “commit suicide”. I used it up until three years ago. The other day a good friend used it in a post for the campaign raising awareness for veteran suicides where you video yourself doing 22 push-ups representing the number of veterans that take their life every day in the US.
The last time I used that phrase was at the launch of the Movember campaign in Toronto 2013 where I was announcing our focus on suicide prevention because - “3 out of 4 suicides are men, 1 man commits suicide every minute of every day around the world” I shared with the packed room.
A guy by the name Eric Windeler then approached me, thanked me for Movember’s new focus and funding but asked that I never use “commit suicide” again. Naively I asked why. Eric then shared that he had lost his son, Jack to suicide and that his son didn’t commit a sin, and didn’t commit a crime.
The gravity of that moment stuck with me.
The next day I investigated the origins and found the term came from the days when suicide was illegal (to "commit" a crime) and was considered a sin by the church (to "commit" a sin). It also has connotations from the days of institutional care where people were "committed" to an asylum. The term still carries these stigmas with it today and its use (as I experienced) can be extremely upsetting to people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
When talking about such tragedies, it’s better to use phrases like “Took his own life”, “Killed herself”, “Died by suicide”.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young men, eclipsing road death, cancer and heart disease. To positively address this hidden health crisis, we need to start talking about it and using the right language.
Please share this with anyone that uses “commit suicide” because language matters.
Go to www.movember.com for more information on how to start life-saving conversations and to find 24-hour crisis support if you need it.