Campaigners, celebrities and MPs have called for an end to stigmatising language around suicide, explaining that phrases such as “committed suicide” should never be used.
In an open letter published on World Suicide Prevention Day, the group say the media in particular has a responsibility to use considered language when writing on the topic, encouraging journalists to think about the impact certain phrases may have on the general public, as well as bereaved families and friends.
“We still read that a person has ‘committed suicide’, suggesting suicide is either a sin or a crime, or both. It has not been a crime in the UK since 1961,” the letter reads.
“This form of words can imply that to take one’s own life is a selfish, cowardly, criminal or irreligious act, rather than the manifestation of extreme mental distress and unbearable pain. It also adds to the stigma and feelings of shame that prevent people from reaching out for help.”
[READ MORE: How to help a loved one who is suicidal]
The letter has been signed by almost 150 high profile individuals, including former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, MP Caroline Lucas, presenters Dermot O’Leary, Zoe Ball and Stephen Fry, and suicide prevention campaigners Jonny Benjamin and Poorna Bell.
Instead of the phrase “committed suicide”, the group would like to see people use the phrases “died by suicide’ or “taken their own life”. They also highlight that the reasons for suicide are complex and unique to the individual, and we should therefore avoid speculating how events in a person’s life may have led to their death.
They also warn against sensationalising suicide in the media, citing recent research which examined news reports covering the suicide of US actor Robin Williams and identified a 10% increase in people taking their own lives in the months following his death.
“Young people in particular are more influenced by what they see and hear in the media than other age groups and are more susceptible to what is often referred to as suicide contagion,” the letter reads.
“We should not describe a suicide as ‘easy’, ‘painless’, ‘quick’ or ‘effective’, and we should remember to look at the long-term consequences of suicide attempts, not forgetting the significant life-long pain for those left behind when someone does take their own life.”
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com