The power of language: the media needs to change how it handles suicide
Did you know that 10th September was National Suicide Prevention Day? I didn’t, until about 11 pm that night. I was horrified that I’d gone the entire week and heard nothing about it. What kind of world do we live in where I see more all over Facebook about Steak and Blowjob day than suicide prevention? For many of us, it seemed like this important day just passed us by.
Suicide has cropped up in the media a lot lately. Mac Miller, the 26-year-old rapper, died of an overdose two weeks ago. As with all suicide, it is a tragedy. Yet a disturbing amount of the focus of this young man’s death has focused on it being ’caused’ by his break-up earlier in the year with Ariana Grande. Why, rather than informing ourselves and others about how to help those who are struggling and depressed, are we finding people to blame for the deaths?
The language associated with suicide is a topic that has finally begun to be addressed. The term that someone has ‘committed suicide’ is being taken under questioning following recent suicides in the news. Most of us have probably never even questioned it before, but when you think about it – why DO we call it ‘committing’ suicide? The use of this word implies suicide is sinful, or a crime, yet suicide has not been an official crime since 1961.
But why does this matter? It matters because language and how it is used in the media has an undeniable impact on how people view a topic. The language used in the media ultimately influences how we all see suicide, how much we know about it, and could even affect how those who are suffering from suicidal thoughts or family who are recovering from the trauma of losing a loved one to it. Although ‘committed suicide’ has become such a pervasive term, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to call for change. Think about it… you commit theft, you commit murder, you commit rape. How can we even associate suicide with any of these things?
I can already hear the frustrated cries of “It’s just a word!” or “It’s just political correctness gone mad!”, but if you stop to think about it, it makes sense. For a start, a shift in how we talk about suicide directly affects survivors of attempted suicide and those recovering. Using criminal language to describe suicide could lead to survivors feeling ashamed, and this is no way to assist in recovery.
Yes, we all know we need to start talking about suicide; but let’s not just talk about it. Let’s change how we talk about it.