Even 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.