Language is easily one of the most important parts of who we are as people and it plays a significant role in our everyday lives. Our need to communicate with those around is a key component of who we are as humans and also provides us with the opportunity to share ideas, feelings, and emotions in ways that other forms of communication cannot. However, the way we speak about certain topics and the terminology we use in different scenarios is commonly overlooked, especially when it comes to our mental health. Changing the way we discuss psychological disorders can make recovery for those who are struggling easier and helps eradicate stigma from our society.
A common example of this is the the phrase “committed suicide.” This is something we hear regularly in the media (and probably do not think too much about) but has a substantial impact on how we view suicide and those struggling with suicidal ideation.
People commit murder, people commit fraud, people commit treason, but people do not commit suicide. In the early twentieth century and centuries prior, suicide was considered to be a criminal act in the United States and most countries around the world, meaning it was technically illegal for someone to take their own life. However, throughout the mid to late twentieth century, suicide was decriminalized in many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom and United States.
While the illegality of suicide went away, the phrase “committed suicide” did not. By using this antiquated term, we subconsciously associate the act of someone taking their own life as a crime, altering the way we view those who are struggling and treatments available. This stigmatization of mental illness can cause many who are struggling to avoid treatment and potentially deny their psychological disorders altogether. Instead, use phrases like “took their own life”, “died by suicide”, or “completed suicide.”
Additionally, the way we talk to those who are open about their struggles can put someone into a deeper hole than they are already in. Toxic positivity is a very real issue and can minimize the feelings, emotions, and experiences of someone who is battling mental illness. A few examples of toxic positivity include…
- “Just be happy!”
- “Don’t be depressed.”
- “Why aren’t you positive?”
- “Just don’t be sad. Think happy thoughts!”
Using these phrases can cause those in a dark place to repress their thoughts as opposed to being open about their struggles in an effort to find help. Instead, acknowledge that it is a difficult time, listen (but don’t tell them what you think will help them feel better), and offer support if needed. Additionally, you can check out the five #BeThe1To steps, which are supported by evidence in the field of suicide prevention, to learn how to communicate with someone who may be suicidal.
Change is always difficult, and nobody is perfect, but if we all make an effort to change the ways we discuss our mental health as a whole, the more we will be able to destigmatize mental illness, giving those who struggle more hope about recovery.
Know that you are never alone and help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to get connected with a local crisis center.