The common term “committed suicide” is getting a second look.
“The word ‘committed’ infers it was an illegal act, like committing a crime, committing homicide,” said Dan Ellis, the author of “This Thing Called Grief.”
Even today, the term carries ancient baggage. In the Middle Ages, suicide was against the law. In cases of suicide, authorities who couldn’t punish the deceased confiscated property of survivors. Many religions declared suicide a sin, often denying traditional funeral rites and burials.
That’s why Ellis prefers the term “died by suicide.”
“Suicide is what is on the death certificate. It is the act,” he said. “The mental health issue is what killed the person.”
Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, said changing the language can help change attitudes.
“When someone has cancer, we say they are courageous or determined. No one uses those words for people with mental illness, and we should,” she said. “It takes an enormous amount of courage to face this illness.”