Sticks, Stones and Suicide
Most of us have heard the cliché—“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I don’t know the origins of this saying, but I would guess it came about as a way to steel oneself against the all too hurtful words of others. The fact is that words do have the capacity to hurt, and the words we choose make a difference.
I recently attended a seminar about suicide prevention called “Question, Persuade, & Refer,” hosted by the Mental Health Association of Tulsa. The presenter spoke about the words that we typically use when talking about suicide. We often say that someone “committed” suicide. This word has stigma attached to it since we use similar language to describe a person who commits a crime. The presenter suggested using the phrase “die by suicide.” I have since implemented the change in my language, and, not only does it help in removing the stigma, but it is a much starker description. To say, “she died by suicide” draws attention, and we need to pay attention since suicide has become the leading cause of death due to injury in our country. Another way to say that is more people are dying by suicide than car accidents. We also use words like a “failed attempt” which is a warped descriptor when you flip it around to define “success” as the completion of death by suicide.
Words are a reflection of thoughts and ideas. It is worth looking at the words we use around suicide in our efforts to increase awareness about this disturbingly growing problem. A little more thought about the words we use will make a big impact on decreasing the stigma that continues to surround suicide.