Over the past few years, Avicii’s “Shame on Me” and “Lay Me Down” were constant favorites on my playlists. Legions of fans, and those who knew him personally as Tim, were saddened to hear of Avicii’s passing last month. While I was one of those fans, I was also upset at the language that was used to describe his passing.
In many articles after his passing, journalists, and bloggers used the term “commit suicide” to describe his death by suicide. According to Google’s definition, “commit” means to “carry out or perpetrate a mistake, crime, or immoral act.” Suicide or suicide attempts must not be criminalized through language, and it is important to note that suicide and suicide attempts are still criminalized in some countries.
According to Mental Health Daily, three countries where suicide and/or suicide attempts are illegal are Hungary, Japan, and North Korea. In Hungary, attempted suicide carries a punishment for up to five years. In Japan, suicide is illegal, although there is no specific punishment. In North Korea, a suicide can be an excuse for the government to purge family members of the person who died by suicide.
As our society seeks to confront stigmas that pertain to mental health, it must also cautiously approach language associated with suicide and suicide attempts. In an article for The Mighty, Kyle F. explains the importance of shifting language around suicide and suicide attempts.
“By shifting our language around suicide, we have the power to reduce some of the massive shame carried by survivors of suicide. If you feel scared or helpless about what to say to someone who’s lost someone to suicide, take comfort in knowing that, by changing your language about suicide, you’re offering a countercultural act of kindness. It might seem small but the interpersonal and political impact is nothing but huge.”
Language pertaining to suicide and suicide attempts also affects me personally. When I was 14, I attempted to end my life. I felt hopeless and wanted the pain to stop. I was not attempting to “commit” a crime, I was trying to get to what I thought would be a better place at the time. Fortunately, I got the help I needed. This past weekend, someone who was in my twin brother’s Boy Scout group died by suicide.
Let’s us, as a society, change the language associated with suicide and suicide attempts. Survivors of suicide attempts and those who cared for people who died by suicide deserve better.