Before 1961 it was a crime in the UK to commit suicide or to attempt to commit suicide. (It was never a criminal offence in Scotland and there have been and are still many different cultural and religious beliefs around the world).
The Suicide Act 1961 (9 & 10 Eliz 2 c 60) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It decriminalised the act of suicide in England and Wales so that those who failed in the attempt to kill themselves would no longer be prosecuted. (Wikipedia)
• If you committed suicide before 1961 you were denied a Christian burial and your body dumped in a pit with no clergy, no prayers and no mourners.
• The family of the deceased were stripped of their belongings which were then handed to the Crown.
• This led to the survivors (the family) being reduced to poverty and shame.
• If you attempted to commit suicide but survived, then you were (in most cases) prosecuted and thrown into Prison.
• Again the family of the survivor in prison had to live with the shame.
*I would guess that over the years and leading up to 1961 things were not quite so severe, as tolerance and understanding grew, perhaps due to the development of the medical profession).
The connotation of ‘commit’ is that someone has committed a crime or a sin, yet the phrase ‘commit’ when referring to suicide is still commonly used. It’s a phrase that I have myself used many times in the past without any thought whatsoever.
After Jake’s death on 23rd August 2015 I remember that I didn’t use the phrase committed suicide when telling people how he died. Not because I had any awareness of the stigma attached to it, but just that it seemed so harsh and I simply couldn’t bring myself to say it. I tended to say “He took his own life”
When I visit Jake’s grave and there are other families visiting new graves close by, we often chat and they see from Jake’s headstone how young he was and when they ask how he died, or was he ill, I tend to say “he was very poorly with mental health issues, possibly something like Bi-polar and that is why he died”. They get what I am saying. If we meet again and we chat more then I share more information if they ask me. It is hard to say out right that Jake took his own life or that he died by hanging. It breaks my heart.
So the point that I am hoping to make, writing this blog is that if we can all begin to build some awareness and understanding of how the phrase committed suicide contributes to the Stigma that still surrounds suicide.
There has already been an amazing job done through media campaigns, individuals and high profile celebrities to reduce stigma around mental health issues generally.
Let’s push forwards, towards changing the language we use when commenting on or reporting suicide could make a huge difference. I am aware that Papyrus, the Samaritans, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, Time to Change, CALM and many others have worked extremely hard to push this message to the powers that be and although it is clearly getting through, I am often still bewildered when I hear some news readers and some newspaper reports still using the phrase committed suicide.
Spread the word and let’s contribute towards reducing stigma and shame. Remember “took their own life” or “died by suicide” are far better phrases to use.
Little things can make such a difference. Much love.x