Language is a powerful tool and it can change perspectives. The term “commit suicide” comes from the outdated beliefs that suicide was a sin and also a crime. By continuing to use that phrase we are perpetrating that stereotype and feeding the stigma that still exists around suicide. People do not commit cancer they die of cancer, it is the same with suicide.
Bonny Bell, past board member and Survivor Chair CASP; member of 2011 Vancouver CASP conference committee wrote the following. “Today, the word ‘commit’ presents a particular problem since it is also used for criminal offences such as homicide and assault. Suicide is no longer a criminal act in Canada. The term ‘successful’ used to describe a suicide death does not reflect the reality. Every suicide death is a tragedy, not a success.”
Initiated by the Compassionate Friends, in 2002 the CASP Board recommended using “death by suicide,” “died by suicide,” “suicide or suicide death.” These terms are non-judgemental and consistent with how we describe other types of death – died from cancer, died in a car accident, and thus died by suicide.
Likewise, to describe a suicide attempt that does not result in death as a “failure,” “unsuccessful,” or “incomplete’ is not helpful, nor is it accurate.
Barbara Swanston, Suicide Awareness Activist
Organizing the Campbell River Defeat Depression Walk
May 25, 2014