Language Matters – There is Stigma in the Words

words have powerEven the word “stigma” does not properly describe the strength of words often used to describe those who are on the “fringe” of our current societal “norm” and an article I ran across today about the proper use of language in regard to Caitlyn Jenner and transgender had my head spinning.

My confusion was not from the article itself. It is rather about the hurry the media is in to say the right thing about this person and situation when they continually neglect to use the proper terminology regarding suicide.  Their unforgiveable neglect of the proper terms is done in spite of constant proding from citizens like myself and more powerful and recongnized organizations like the internationally renowned suicide prevention agencies.

On more than one occasion I have written to media outlets, both local and national, asking them to stop saying,”Committed suicide.”  Suicide has not been a crime in Canada since about 1971 and the use of criminal language perpetuates the myths and misunderstandings about suicide and suicidal behavior.  Their response is that they have to have the word on proper terms from a “repuatable source”.  I’m not sure how much reputable you get than the International Suicide Prevention Organization but I guess it’s not good enough.

While Jenner’s story has brought on a much needed rush of language awareness regarding transgender I am perplexed that the media still insists on saying Robin Williams “committed suicide”.  It makes me wonder if the shock factor the words emit is more important to them because it sells better.  Taming it down, so to speak, to “died by suicide” would not have the same impact on the sale of stories and support of tweets as the the former.

As a journalist myself, I am aware of the power of language.  It is not just a tool but rather a weapon and small turns of phrase can turn nations on their heels in support or opposition to a person, a party or a cause.  Ask those who followed Hitler so blindly, about the power of a good orator.

Please read the article about the language of “transgender” but also please join me in making changes to the language of suicide and other mental health issues which are so entrenched and so discriminatory.  The battle to win the world over to an understanding of mental health issues will not make much headway until someone changes the language.  I

Please read my own compilation of a document about Terms About Suicide.  It is a collection of terms from a variety of sites and sources.


About Peggy Guiler

You just never know what show up on my blog. As the name implies it is about the stuff of life just like Spilt Milk. Everyday events spark thought and contemplation. Special events in the community, the country or the world may strike a cord and get me talking. Sometimes it's about people in my life or circumstances, sometimes about my garden, sometimes about a book or a political issue. Always it's about something I am passionate about. In my business, River of Hope Enterprises (, I work as an "Certified Coach" (International Coach Federation), a trainer, consultant and speaker. and as a spiritual director. I also drive a school bus to keep the wolf from the door while I build my business. I love the kids on the bus (most of the time). My family is grown and I have three grandkids who thrill my heart but I don't get to see any of them very often. Circumstances of life have made "family" difficult. My son died by suicide at age 16 in 2000 and the strain on our family relationships since has been huge. Mental health is a field where I worked for almost 22 years and where I still do some consulting and training. That combined with my own battle with depression and my son's death weave together to form some of my greatest soap box items: suicide intervention, suicide bereavement and peer support in mental health are right on the top of my list. Social justice is an underlying passion. Keeping the wolf from the door as a single parent was full-time work and my career path as a journalists was augmented with cleaning contracts, cooking, retail clerk, and bartending. I have known hard work and am grateful for the experience and perspective it has given me. A firmly grounded faith and a passion for learning has now taken me toward a new field as a Spiritual Director and I am soon adding to that a license to marry people. As I move toward retirement I am very aware that I have to keep working so I chose to do things which will meet my modest financial needs and also my love of supporting people in their life journey. Woven into all of this is my love of writing. Trained as a Journalist, and having worked in the field as a freelance news writer for many years, I have a great love for writing. This blog is a new beginning for me. As I hone my skills and begin to form a daily discipline of writing I hope it will lead to more writing in the future.
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