Goshen News, Goshen, IN

September 29, 2012

Suicide language needs changed


Sept. 9 to 15 was National Suicide Prevention Week. As of Aug. 22 Elkhart County has had nine confirmed deaths from suicide — eight men and one woman. Men far exceed women on death by suicide.

Recently, I ran across the following that I felt compelled to share. It is from "the Compassionate Friends" newsletter, Goshen area chapter.

The Compassionate Friends took a historic step in 2001 to modernize the language that describes a death by suicide. The national board of directors adopted the terms "died by suicide" or "died of suicide" to replace the commonly used "committed suicide" or "completed suicide."

"Committed suicide," with its implication of criminality, is a carryover from the Middle Ages when civil authorities, finding the victim had died by his own hand, punished the survivors by confiscating their property or imposing huge fines. Victims were forbidden traditional funerals and could not be buried in a traditional or church-owned cemetery. Suicide was considered both illegal and sinful by the laws and religion of the time. "Completed suicide" implies earlier suicide attempts when there may have been none, or that it was some kind of project that has now been completed.

Both expressions perpetuate a stigma that is neither accurate nor relevant to today’s society. We now know that many suicides are the result of brain disorders or biochemical illnesses, such as clinical depression. Just as there is "glitch" in a cell that causes the birth of a cancer, a "glitch" in the brain causes an attempt or an actual death by suicide. The stigma associated with suicide often forces family members to choose between secrecy about the death and social isolation. Their hesitancy to seek the support of the community increases their pain and makes their healing more difficult. Families who have had a member die by suicide are helped in their grief by the use of non judgmental language.

— W. Rex Gleim

member of Elkhart County

Suicide Prevention Coalition

and co-founder of Ryan’s Place