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Time to change language about suicide
The March 13, 2012, ATA News featured a photo of boxer George Chuvalo. The photo caption read in part: “Two of Chuvalo’s sons died of drug overdoses, and another son and Chuvalo’s wife committed suicide.” It is these last two words that hurt those affected by suicide.
Since my retirement from teaching seven years ago, I’ve worked as the adult program coordinator for Suicide Information and Education Services, in Red Deer. I’ve also been a facilitator for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), providing workshops on how to intervene with someone at risk of suicide.
The phrase “committed suicide” perpetuates the stigma toward and judgment of a tragic event. We associate the word committed with crime and sin. One also can be committed to a mental health facility. Many advocates in suicide prevention and bereavement, along with social researchers, are promoting a more sensitive and respectful language around suicide. At presentations or workshops I talk about the language of suicide. Through education, I hope we can purge our language of phrases like “commit suicide,” “successful suicide,” “failed suicide attempt” or “completed suicide.” The terms successful or failed should never be associated with suicide. Typically, when we complete something we feel good—that feeling should not be associated with suicide.
What words are more sensitive and respectful and less judgmental? We can choose to say “died by suicide” or there was a “suicide attempt”—such phrases are void of judgment and lessen the stigma associated with suicide.
In Alberta, on average four people die by suicide every three days—three out of four are male. It is estimated that each year more than 250,000 Albertans are touched in some way by suicide.
I encourage interested educators to consider attending an ASIST workshop. For information, visit the Centre for Suicide Prevention website (www.suicideinfo.ca).
Grant E. Smith, MEd