To Complete or No: The Semantics of Suicide

To many of us ‘committing suicide’ is a phrase that rolls off our tongue. We don’t think of the implications of saying this. We may not be aware of the implications of say it. You may think I am being fussy but this is an all important point. Up until recently committing suicide was an accepted term. So what has changed?

In 1961, the Suicide Act decriminalised suicide meaning those who attempted suicide could no longer be prosecuted. Previous to this those who failed to commit suicide may have been fined, prosecuted or even given jail time for the act. When we consider the health implications for those who are led to attempt to end their life it is horrific to think that this was met with potential jail time.

The idea of criminalising attempted suicide or ‘self-murder’ has been around since the 13th century. For attempted suicide to be criminalised it had to be proven that the person attempting the act was sane. This may seem laughable to us now. We have the insight that attempting suicide and suicidal ideation – thoughts of suicide – are the product of severe mental health problems but this was not always the case.

Although suicide was decriminalised nearly 50 years ago it is only in recent years that mental health activists have encouraged people to adopt the term completing suicide. Committing suicide is an outdated term which harks back to a time when suicide was criminalised; we commit a crime. This is no longer the case. The language is no longer relevant. The tide has changed and now so shall we.

The language we use in everyday life has far-reaching consequences. We may think that being politically correct has gone too far but for many this is an important issue. Using the term ‘committing’ retains the stigma of suicide as a crime. It hints to the ignorance and misunderstanding of the severity of illness that brings someone to this point in their life. We need to understand that people who have suicidal thoughts and may even attempt or complete suicide do not make these decisions lightly. Just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. These people aren’t ‘copping out’ on life, they are struggling and suicide may feel like the only option.

If this conversation makes you uncomfortable than you probably need to be reading this. We could all do with more understanding when it comes to mental health and mental illness. We need to understand how the language we use can reinforce discrimination which already has a huge impact on society. To use another mental health soundbite that is big in the press at the moment, we all need to be more ‘mindful’ about mental health. Both our own and others. We need to think about how our words have the power to effect change. By getting our lingo right we speak out to society showing that we are an enlightened population. Until this happens you will find me reminding people of the difference between committing and completing.

To find out more about suicide prevention click here.

To support Papyrus prevention of young suicide click here.

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