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What Terminology Should We Use To Describe Suicides?

ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

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*Trigger Warning: Mention of Suicide*

“People assumed that there was something wrong with my family; my sister must have been ‘crazy’ or on drugs. We need to get the point of taking care of our mental health just like we take care of physical health.” This is how Lisa Boehringeris, a licensed clinical social worker in NY, describes her experience following her sister’s death by suicide. 

Dying by suicide requires more courage than to seek part in social discussions about it actively. People dying by suicide are not the ones who don’t wish to live but rather the ones who lack the ability to find resources to be able to sustain.

For instance, it has been a couple of months since the decriminalisation of article 377, but still, society views people of the queer community as outliers. Various reasons are leading queers to die by suicide. 

The greatest negative impact of the Covid-19 lockdown has been on the mental health of people. Representational image.

With the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and nations announcing social distancing and remote working, multiple negative consequences have resulted — physical health issues, increasing mental illnesses, dropping economy, etc. This has led to multiple layoffs leading to people not being able to afford a sustainable living for their families. 

The greatest negative impact has been on the mental health of people. These people would prefer death over being rejected and humiliated.

What Terminology Should We Use To Describe Suicide?

The terminology used while describing deaths by suicide is important to take note of. The common phrases used while trying to describe a person’s death due to suicide are “they committed suicide”. It becomes important to pay attention to the fact that “to commit” means to engage in an act of sin, and suicide is no sin.

If a person dies from a heart attack, one never says “they were weak and died by a heart attack”, rather all kinds of thoughts get rationalised. However, the opposite is in the cases of suicide. Phrases like “they were weak” and “they wanted attention” become common. Thus, what is necessary is a step towards sensitivity and not looking at the bereaved as a culprit for “taking their own life”.

Phrases like “committed suicide” need to be replaced by “died of suicide”, and the same amount of empathy must be shown to such cases as one would have shown to a person who dies of physical disease. 

Data provided by NCRB.

How Should We Break The News Of Suicide To Children?

Breaking bad news to children may seem to be difficult but must be done nonetheless. It is important to be honest with the child; otherwise, they may end up living in a state of confusion for years. Certain things to be kept in mind while disclosing the news of suicide to a child include the child’s age, personality and how close they were to the bereaved.  

Children must be told the truth by keeping it simple for them. Some certain dos and don’ts need to be kept in mind while breaking the news to the children. They may first be explained what death means and then slowly how people may die for various reasons. These reasons could vary from accidents to illnesses. 

Suicide can be explained as a state that people adhere to when they feel they no longer can fight their obstacles and voluntarily make their body stop working. The feelings of children must be acknowledged. These children may develop a fear of being left alone; thus, they must be kept with trusted adults and taken care of.

Role Of Media In Suicide Stories

Rhea accused of being a witch
A prominent media house discusses the possibility of Rhea being a witch. Credit: Aman Sharma/Twitter

While bringing the news of a death that has happened by suicide to the larger society, the media’s role becomes important. The pen is mightier than the sword; a way of expressing and putting out information for something as triggering an issue as suicide becomes important. With the wrong terminology, the bereaved’s dignity gets hampered, but it also may act as a contagion for the viewers. 

The way media chooses to show the story of a person who died by suicide becomes important. It is important to note that these stories may act as triggers for some and end up being overwhelming. The identity of the bereaved gets lost if the focus is made on the cause of death. 

Instead of giving elaborative descriptions of how the act of suicide was implemented, the focus should be on the following things:

  • The probable trigger signs. 
  • The warning signs can be identified in people around in one’s surroundings and help them cope effectively. 
  • Resources that can be approached for help. 
  • Providing them with psychological aids. 
  • Spreading awareness about the suicide helplines available. 
  • How the difficult times can be made easier for the people, rather than on ways to attempt suicide. 

It is a well-known fact that the media has one of the greatest influences on people’s behaviours. To a large extent, people’s ideas, thoughts and beliefs get shaped by what they view on screen. Thus, the media must be careful of the terminology they choose while bringing the information about someone’s death by suicide to public notice and must have the people’s interests in mind. 

The dignity of the bereaved must be maintained and the same respect is shown to the survivors of suicide as is shown to other causes of death.

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