Here at Body Aware Grieving, we support and encourage all the hardworking organizations that help people whose lives are touched by various forms of suicide. If you have lost someone you love, or are directly concerned by thoughts of harming yourself, here are links to a few excellent organizations:
International Association for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
To Write Love On Her Arms
When discussing the very sensitive and complex topic of suicide though, I prefer to use the word “reduction” instead of “prevention”. Specifically I think it is important to differentiate between a person who takes their own life because they are in despair over a disappointment like losing their job or a painful romantic break-up and someone who is making a conscious choice about the quality of life they are willing to tolerate during a terminal illness. Should the exact same word, “suicide”, be used to describe both situations?
Here is another example where I believe a single word has become too general. I am a fitness trainer and people often ask me if “yoga” is a good exercise choice for them. I mention that it is important to know more about their goals and injury level. There are many differing styles of “yoga”, some very vigorous and physically demanding while others much gentler or perhaps spiritually oriented. Two people could both claim that they either love or hate “yoga” and hardly be referring to the same activity.
Most people would agree that it is important to help people who are threatening their own lives due to temporary life problems get the support they need to make it through a tough time. It can be especially heartbreaking when a teen or young adult chooses to take their own life. When we refer to “suicide prevention” I believe that we are most commonly referring to those due to depression and despondency.
On the other hand, there are people within the medical, palliative and hospice care communities who believe there are times when patients who are suffering from painful terminal illnesses should be allowed to decide when and how they prefer to pass away.
In these circumstances it can be emotionally and legally more complicated to refer to the choice to die, or refuse life-extending treatments, as “suicide” or “assisted suicide”.
Organizations that discuss end-of-life topics include:
Death With Dignity National Center
Baby Boomer’s Guide
Dying Matters Coalition/The National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC)
My point in writing this article is to suggest that we may be better served by expanding our vocabulary when discussing how and why someone may be considering taking their own life. From there we can decide whether it is appropriate to attempt to ‘prevent’ or ‘reduce’ deaths that have been willful.
Can any of you offer your opinions? Any suggested new vocabulary that could improve these discussions? I especially invite participants from organizations like those described above to tell us how we, the public, can better help them meet their goals.
Best wishes to us all,