In 2012, my only child, Christopher, took his own life. He had a brain injury and unremitting, deep depression, for which he refused treatment. I was devastated.
Suicide is a growing issue. I am weary of people using the phrase “committed suicide.” The word “committed,” when used as a verb is generally associated with crime or affront i.e. “He committed a crime.” “He committed a faux pas.”
Let’s stop criminalizing suicide. Suicide was ordained a sin during the Burning Times (the 14th through 18th centuries) to block innocent citizens accused of witchcraft from suicide after being arrested. Initially, many took their own lives to avoid the ghastly torture employed to coerce a (false) confession of witchcraft. But after the new “sin” was introduced, most were too terrified of burning in hell to escape by killing themselves.
In modern times, the act is still stigmatized. Perhaps there is a better, less shaming, blaming way to say it, such as:
- He took his own life.
- He died by his own hand.
- He decided life was too painful and left.
- He killed himself
Suicide usually arises from deep depression and/or unremitting physical pain and/or drugs. It’s an act of desperation, not a criminal act. We are programmed at a primal level to do whatever it takes to stay alive, so something is really off when it happens.
That’s why it is also wrong to say that those people who died were selfish and didn’t think of anyone but themselves. Obviously, the deceased couldn’t think straight in the first place. Accusers appear to me to be self-righteous.
Depression runs in my family. Both of Christopher’s grandfathers took their lives. Both were in a lot of ongoing physical pain. But not all who are in pain kill themselves. Studies show that our DNA plays at least some role in raising the risk for depression. It’s a complicated mental illness.
So I ask that others think about it next time before saying someone “committed” suicide. I ask others to think about it before condemning them as selfish. We have not lived in their minds and bodies.
And one more thing: When people tell you a loved one took his or her life, please don’t be rude and insensitive and ask how it was done.