THE BLOG

Suicide: What's In A Word?

05/06/2017 11:55

Suicide is a difficult word. There's no getting away from it.

Whether like me and many others someone you love has taken their life, whether you are someone who has contemplated taking your life or if you have no personal experience at all, suicide is still a very difficult word.

Tonight Professor Louis Appleby tweeted "Uneasy re media use of 'Manchester suicide bomber' - callous attack on others a long way from despair of suicidal people who need support" and I felt relieved. It wasn't just me who's felt that unease since the abhorrent attack in Manchester last week.2017-06-01-1496358702-383068-ScreenShot20170601at22.19.48.png

Almost every national newspaper has carried headlines describing the perpetrator as a so called 'suicide bomber', yet what happened on Monday 22nd May in Manchester felt like a world away from the circumstances around by partner's death by his own hand.

No doubt Mark, like many others, felt that those he left behind would be better off without him. Any one of us would give all we have to tell him differently. Using the word 'suicide' as common to both his lone act of suicidal despair and that of the perpetrator of the disgusting act of terror that killed and injured so many innocent victims, is the cause of my unease. Our word is being used in connection with horrific events all across the world and very close to home for me writing here in Liverpool.

By labelling both acts as 'suicide' we bring the disgust we rightly feel towards one act of terror into the very same space where we are trying to encourage people to articulate their suicidal feelings as a first, important step on the path to seeking help. Research tells us that as many as 75% of those who take their lives are not engaged with any of the agencies that may be able to help them. Mark, the father of my children, was one of those who stayed silent about his feelings.

The working title of our BBC 1 documentary Life After Suicide was actually 'Invisible Scars'. I don't mind admitting that back in 2014 when we were filming I felt relieved because the word 'suicide' wouldn't be splashed across the screen alongside my name. After the edit we received our transmission date along with the news that 'Invisible Scars' had become 'Life After Suicide'. I remember taking a sharp breath in. Surely that title was too harsh, too sharp, too painful. Actually, I was wrong and more than a little selfish. If our film was going to play its part in challenging the stigma, while also providing a platform for one of the last taboos in society, then we had to use the word in its title. At the very least we owed it to all of our contributors to be as courageous as they were and out of respect to those that they had lost to suicide.

I have felt this unease before. Once I was asked to give comment about the so-called 'suicide clinic' Dignitas. I refused. Others are much better placed to comment on the decision made by some in a calm, considered way, to end their lives with their loved ones around them as a deliberate, controlled act to limit ones suffering. Again, the word was used as an umbrella under which experiences I have no concept of, are grouped together with mine. I felt uneasy.

I haven't got the answers. I don't know what we should call such shocking, deplorable actions as witnessed in Manchester and I don't have proof that misusing the very language that we are trying to empower suicidal people with is detrimental, but I do feel like it is and I'm relived that someone as experienced and well respected as Louis Appleby feels uneasy too.

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