STIGMA AND LANGUAGE CONSIDERATIONS RELATED TO SUICIDE
Stigma and Suicide
Though no scientific study has ever shown that the majority of people who are suicidal have these qualities, society continues to promulgate stigma by teaching us that such people are weak, selfish, manipulative and even sinful, rather than that they are people in pain who can heal. This stigma can keep those who need it from getting help.
Suicide survivors are also affected by stigma, which may keep them from seeking help and support as well. Stigma often makes suicide a secret to be hidden in the dark, which is a serious challenge for prevention. Changing the perceptions that create stigma is difficult, but can be accomplished through education and advocacy.
For other information and opinions about stigma and suicide, visit: http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/stigma.htm or www.suicide.org/stigma-and-suicide.html.
Language Considerations Related to Suicide
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.” - Mark Twain
The language we use can make a significant difference in reducing stigma. It is vital that we begin to use, and educate others to use, terms other than “commit suicide.” “Commit suicide” connotes criminal or sinful behavior which reinforces stigma. There are better alternatives.
|Use this language
||Avoid this language
|Died by suicide
Language and emphasis used in how suicide reporting is handled in the media is also extremely important. For media guidelines related to suicide visit SPAN USA’s Media Guidelines.
Stigma and Mental Illness
Studies indicate that 85-94% of people who complete suicide had a mental health and/or substance abuse disorder. Stigma about mental illness and substance abuse leads to shame and disgrace which creates a barrier to seeking treatment. At the same time, studies show that mental illness can be successfully treated. It is also important to understand that no matter what the contributing factors may be, mental illnesses are chemically and biologically based brain disorders, and are no one’s fault.
People First Language
People First Language is terminology used when referring to a person with a disability, including mental illness. A mental illness is a diagnosis. If you were diagnosed with pneumonia it would not make sense to call you a pneumatic. Likewise, why should someone with schizophrenia be called a schizophrenic or a schizo? This is not about being politically correct. It is about speaking accurately about an individual. People First Language emphasizes worth and abilities. It puts the person before the diagnosis. It says what a person HAS -- not what a person IS. People with mental illness are simply people who happen to have a diagnosis.
|Use People First Language
||Avoid these terms
|Person who has schizophrenia
||schizophrenic person or schizo
|Person with depression
||depressed person, lazy
psycho, nuts, crazy, or looney