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How to Responsibly Talk About Death from Suicide

I do not have a lot of time today to address the two high-profile death from suicides that we have had this past week with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, but I wanted to address how you can help people who live with mental illness and are reading your Facebook posts, tweets, and Instagram right now:

Please do NOT say the following things:

  • She killed herself.

  • He chose to die.

  • They committed suicide.

  • She chose to end her suffering.

  • He had a successful suicide.

  • They completed suicide.

  • He suicided.

  • They did not care about their family, friends, or kids.

  • They are selfish.

An easy rule of thumb is, if you would not say it about death from any other illness, don't say it about death from mental illness.

  • We do not choose mental illness. Mental illness is literally an illness in your brain that does not allow you full access to make choices at all times. That means this thing you think someone who dies of suicide is able to do, choose not to, is actually not possible. And, yet, there are many of us who have been suicidal (I have been for at least 90% of my life) and while I like to think I always chose not to do it, I know far too much about mental illness and how the brain works to believe that. I may have always had access to a choice because of the way my mental illness worked in my brain, but not every else is as lucky as I have been.

  • Commit means "to carry out or perpetrate (a mistake, crime, or immoral act.)" We use that phrase when talking about sin and crime. No person with an illness that caused their death is committing a sin or crime.

  • We don't kill ourselves. Our illness killed us. A literally illness in our brain that changes the way we think and behave.

  • We love our family and friends and most often the issue is that our brain is telling us that we our family and friends are better off without us.

Most mental health advocates and people living with mental illness respectfully ask that you use the phrase, "died of/by suicide" instead. Similar as to how you would say someone died of cancer. Now, if a person living with mental illness says you can use a different phrase around them, then honor their wishes.

However, when you speak publicly about death by suicide, know that every time you use one of the phrases above, you are sending all of us a message.

Do you want to send us the message that you understand that this is an illness and you want to help us, or, do you want to send us the message that you think we could have just chosen differently, we are selfish, or that we are bad for having the illness that we do?

The more we shame mental illness or make it sound like it is not a real illness and that people could just choose differently, the more suicide rates go up because people stop asking or do not ask for help.

If you have a friend or family member that you know struggles with mental illness that comes with suicidal thoughts, give them a call. Check in on them. Let them know you care and you do not judge them, or their illness.


Rev. Katie

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