TW – Trigger Warning – suicide theme.
Apologies – this title is deliberately provocative. Please be reassured, this is a carefully considered blog looking at the language used when talking about suicide.
I was recently listening to a podcast where someone was talking about their experience of mental illness and they said this:
“People say “did you want to commit suicide?”, well, yes, I did want to but I never, I was never at a point where I was stupid enough to think that if I go then my family and stuff is just gonna be like, “oh well, he was alright weren’t he, let’s crack on”. I always knew that, even when I was in my lowest places.”
(We’ll gloss over the fact that “commit” suicide is no longer used since that’s related to when it was a crime, there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the podcast apologising for this language!)
I know he’s not suggesting suicidal thoughts are stupid, he’s admitting he had them, but he appears to be showing a lack of understanding about what actually happens inside the mind of someone when they’re seriously contemplating suicide and it’s language like this that perpetuates the stigma surrounding suicide.
I know it was probably a flippant, off the cuff remark and I don’t want to target him but I feel when talking on a podcast, you’re in a position of influence and I want to use this example to talk about the wider subject, we all need to carefully consider the language we use.
When someone’s mental illness is so severe that suicide feels like the only option, they have got to a point where their mind is not able to think with their usual clarity and logic. From an outside perspective we can see plenty of reasons to stay alive but the chemicals in their brain have altered in such a way that their thoughts are not their own.
When in the depths of depression, your mind persuades you that your family and friends would be better off without you. You may think you’re a burden or you’ve become a person no one would want to live with. So, far from it being a stupid thought, it feels prudent to consider your impact on others and take yourself out of the picture.
The pain of depression has been described, by some, as one of the worst pains a human being can experience. Suicide is not just as easy way out but it may feel like the only option to escape the unending agony.
It’s incredibly sad to think about a person at such a low point but I’m being blunt about the reality because this is how powerful the mind is, it grinds down your self esteem and suicide feels like a legitimate (even logical) way out.
Sometimes suicide is spoken about as selfish, as though the person is only thinking about the relief they will gain, that they are not considering the hole they will leave behind. Knowing incredibly beautiful, compassionate people who’ve died by suicide, selfish, is not a word I was use to describe them.
If you find yourself feeling anger or bitterness towards a loved one who’s died at their own hands, this is natural; it may feel logical to consider them selfish to have escaped the situation, leaving you to pick up the pieces. I’m not saying your feelings are wrong, if you’re feeling them, by nature of the fact they exist, they are acceptable. However, it may be helpful to consider whether these feelings are keeping you stuck and whether forgiveness maybe a step you need to consider in order to free yourself.
I have also heard people say they “don’t have the guts” to complete suicide. It is very unhelpful to use this language. Talking from experience, it is difficult to think about deliberately putting yourself through pain but, as previously explained, thinking clearly and logically are not possible at this point. It can feel as though it takes bravery but when I’ve got to the point of carrying out a violent act, it’s been a case of reluctantly giving up the fight for life and giving in to the voices telling me to end my life. This was not in a passive way, but in an active “I can finally take some action, do something about my situation, to make it better for everyone”.
It did not take bravery or guts, nor was it selfish, it was simply a symptom of my mental illness.
I know, we will all, on occasion, be clumsy with our language, make mistakes and say things that are less than sensitive, I know I will! But it’s important we’re open to considering how our language impacts others and how we can improve what we say to lessen stigma and improve communication.
If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal or expressing suicidal thoughts, please seek help from your GP or other care provider. In the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123.