They Have It Wrong.

By Amanda LongJanuary 27, 2014


Yes, I said the dreaded “s” word. Suicide: a taboo subject in our culture. We’re sometimes afraid to even mutter the word for fear of the reaction we will get from those around us. There are many stigmas associated with suicide. But those of us whose lives have been impacted by suicide have an opportunity, even a responsibility, to break the stigma by bringing awareness to society.

I think the first step is to banish the word “commit” when discussing suicide. It is my understanding this term came into use many years ago when it was deemed a crime to harm oneself. Now doctors realize there are many mental illnesses that contribute to suicide. In over 90 percent of cases where suicide is the cause of death, the individual has a history of mental illness. With suicide, the victim takes his or her own life—but they do not “commit” suicide. The victim has likely lived with a disease. I use the word “victim” because he or she did not choose to have this disease any more than another chooses to suffer from a physical disease. No one commits cancer. No one commits a heart attack. No one commits diabetes. No one commits depression. So why would we use the word “commit” with suicide? Instead, we need to say that he or she died by suicide, or that they have taken their own life.

Society has also led us to believe we will always know when someone wants to harm themselves. Many assume potential victims will do everything short of wearing a label to point out their depression. While there are a number of signs,  some subtle and some more obvious, which indicate someone may be contemplating suicide, I also know firsthand that some preconceived notions about suicide can be wrong.

I lost my brother to suicide five months ago. We had a happy childhood. Our parents did everything in their power to make sure we knew we were loved. My brother went to college and had a ton of friends. He had a great job. He was married with children. He was the kind of guy who could light up the room with his smile, instantly bringing everyone joy. We knew he wasn’t at his happiest point in life, but he put on a good front. We never expected him to take his own life. Never. Not once did he threaten to take his own life prior to his death. Two days before his suicide, we were together and had a wonderful time. I did not have even the tiniest thought that he would go home and take his own life 48 hours later.

This, my friends, is sometimes the true picture of suicide. Some people in deep depression, like my brother, will only let you in so much. You may only be allowed to glimpse a small piece of the puzzle of their life, when in fact, they live in a world of hurt and despair deeper and darker than you might imagine.

Suicide does not discriminate. Yes, society has led us to believe there is a clear picture of those individuals who would take their own lives, but there’s not a checklist. Rich or poor, black or white, homosexual or heterosexual, single or married with children, Christian or atheist, upper or lower class … it doesn’t matter. Depression, the leading cause of suicide, also affects every walk of life. No one is immune to this disease, and we need to break this stigma as well so we can reach people wherever they’re at.

We’ve been led to believe suicide is the “selfish” way out, that victims of suicide have chosen to take their own lives because they don’t want to face their problems. I believe the vast majority of those who take their own life do not see it as a “choice.” They are in such a deep pit that they are unable to see beyond themselves. They can’t begin to understand how ending their lives will affect their loved ones. They truly believe the world will be a better place without them. I believe with all my heart that if my brother had been capable of looking outside of his pain and turmoil, he would never have taken his own life. He loved his family, and he would have never hurt us intentionally. We have to teach people that suicide is often the endpoint of an illness, and we need to find ways to prevent it.

Five months after my brother’s death, we are still finding missing pieces to the puzzle of his depression. That’s hard to come to terms with. I loved my brother with all of my heart, but my love alone was not enough to save him. Saving lives and preventing suicide depends on much more; it depends on treatment, on open conversations, on the desire to seek help, and on a stigma-free environment in which to do so.

We’ve all been touched by suicide in one form or another. As those who have survived, or as those who have been left behind, we have a responsibility to challenge the stigma associated with suicide. Educate your friends. Educate your families. Spread the word. Love each other. Be kind to one another. Please join me and help break the stigma.

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Comments (26)

  1. Morgan

    Auburn University lost a student to suicide this past Thursday. Barrett “Bear” Townsend was a senior in software engineering and a fraternity brother, and he taught yoga. Everyone who knew him was shocked because he was the “happiest”, the one who helped others, etc. Our community is shaken. He wasn’t the “type.” We need to be able to banish these stereotypes and break the stigma, we have to move toward prevention and healing.

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  2. Kristin

    Hi Amanda,

    Such an important post – thank you for sharing. I feel for you and your family and applaud anyone who is standing up to shout down stigma. I have only one issue with your post – the use of the word “survivor.” As a survivor of suicidal thinking, I struggle with the use of the term “survivor” for those who have experienced losing a loved one. I urge you to check out the American Association of Suicidology’s blog “What Happens Now?” Terminology is frequently discussed in words more eloquent than I could attempt to replicate here. Please add your voice to the conversation!

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    1. Amanda

      Hi, Kristin. Thanks for your comment. I agree that this terminology can be confusing; however, I did not coin the term survivor to be used in this context. There is a national support group that I attend named Survivors of Suicide, or SOS. When talking about a survivor of suicide you are speaking about those left behind, not those that actually survived a suicide attempt. It’s odd. I’m sure you can find more information if you check out their website. Thanks!

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  3. Katina Walker

    Ananda you are inspirational. So many people stay quiet about suicide and this is not helping. This is an epidemic and we do need to talk about it and try to find a way to help the ones we love that are hurting. I had a friend kill himself when I was 18 and it was unheard of. Now it seems to happen way too often. God bless you and your family. Talking about it and not ignoring it will be the answer.

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  4. shelby

    this is so true. so sorry about your brother. lost a friend 2 years ago this july. there were some subtle hints that we can see thorough out the months before on fb, but nothing that was glaringly obvious that would hint he was at the point he was. i myself have dealt with depression for 10 years, since i was 13. i not once had the thought people would miss me. no one was keeping me here. the only thing that made me not do it was the fear of dying as weird as it may sound. but i wanted nothing more. i just wanted my mind to stop and the pain to go away. i got lucky. but without that fear i probably wouldnt be here.

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  5. Anonymous

    i attempted suicide multiple times in my early-mid teens. never did i realize or even think about how those i would be leaving behind would have felt. looking back on it, i can’t believe i came so close to causing so much pain for those around me. i was blind to it. thank you for talking about the situation from the victims point of view. God bless.

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  6. Jane Ronneberg

    I lost my only child, Elizabeth to suicide over three years ago. The pain and trauma of her death will stay with me for the rest of my life. When I speak of her, which is often, I do not say she took her own life. Her life took her. At the time of her death her mental illness was so heavy and dark. She had no choice. She wanted the pain to end. I call suicide in this country “a secret epidemic”. We have to start talking about suicide in loud voices, not hushed tones.

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  7. Kimmie

    My dad died by suicide a few years ago and there are many points in this post that resonate and stand true. For a while I refused to say he died by suicide because of the stigma around the phrase, I would just tell people he was sick. But now, I think it’s part of my job to honor him by raising awareness.

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  8. Lauren

    I could not have said this better myself! I recently have been involved in writing about my experience with suicide and this post has inspired me to continue to do so! we need to spread awareness!!

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  9. Elizabeth H.

    “We have to teach people that suicide is often the endpoint of an illness, and we need to find ways to prevent it.” I could not agree more. I have lived through a similar situation. Last summer, I lost my Dad to suicide. He was responsible, kind, funny…a young grandfather and father, totally in love with his family. It is truly heart-breaking because if he was in his “right mind” the moment he made that decision and truly aware of the effects, he would have never gone through with it.
    I agree that the notion that “suicide is selfish” is a complete misunderstanding of the true nature of suicide. After losing my Dad, I wrote a poem about this misconception:

    They say suicide is selfish

    I lost my dad
    And my children, their grandpap
    And my mom, her husband
    He lost his children
    And his grandchildren
    He lost his wife
    And he lost his life

    While we all experience a loss when a loved one completes suicide, the truth is that they’re losing out the most.

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  10. Jess

    This post is so true. I know several people who are suicidal and you can never see just how black it is for them. It’s so hard to break the stigma and talk to someone but hopefully with more people spreading the word like you are we can break the taboo and get those who need it help.

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  11. Anonymous

    I lost my brother to suicide 5 1/2 months ago. There is a great facebook support group called Sibling Survivors of Suicide. I encourage you to check it out. Thanks for sharing your story here.

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  12. Jen

    My daughter took her own life – and she was the one who no one would have thought to have attempt suicide. She was the bubbly, happy girl that helped everyone and was always there for everyone else! I commend people who want to educate about suicide. Morgan’s two best friends texted me today to see what they could do to educate the community and raise awareness. Our community has had more then 10 suicides in the last 2 years. People need to know that it is okay to say you are depressed. It is okay to reach out.
    Thank you to everyone who is trying to help – every little bit counts!

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  13. Jessica

    Thank you so much. It is all true. I lost my dear husband almost two months ago to suicide. It was the sickness that took over…because what he did does not define who he was as a Father or a Husband. He was an amazing man who loved God and overcame mental illness more than once in his life. I will forever love him and and miss him. I am sorry to hear about your beloved brother.

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  14. Jessica

    Thank you so much. It is all true. I lost my dear husband almost two months ago to suicide. It was the sickness that took over…because what he did does not define who he was as a Father or a Husband. He was an amazing man who loved God and overcame mental illness more than once in his life. I will forever love him and and miss him. I am sorry to hear about your beloved brother.

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  15. Chelsea G

    I once saw suicide as a selfish act and when my friend killed himself when I was fourteen, I was mad with him. A little over a year later, I found myself attempting suicide, not once, but twice. I am a Christian, I have no problem openly stating that. I went through both experiences for a reason. God has given me my mission of bringing awareness to suicide. I believe that with all my heart. I have been doing it since I was a junior in high school, and now, I’m a sophomore in college, planning a suicide awareness event for my college for the second year in a row.

    I COMPLETELY agree that we as a society have to get rid of the stigma of mental illness and suicide. I thank you for writing this article and being honest. If more people would straight shoot it this way, we would not have this stigma.

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  16. Hannah M.

    Hello Amanda,
    I work for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We use the term “survivor” for people who have lost someone to suicide. You are a survivor of suicide loss. We also strongly encourage everyone to stop using the term “commit” suicide, so thank you for bringing attention to that. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you need any resources or want information about getting involved. Be kind to yourself and your family.

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  17. Christine O'Hagan

    I am an attempt survivor and I find many similarities to your Brother’s completion to my attempt. I let no one know. I am a Christian executive level professional with fantastic parents and two kids. When people ask me, “Why?”, there is no concise answer. The pain was just too big, is all I can think to say. I literally couldn’t move. Everything was pain and all of me was exhausted. The depression consumed me and I couldn’t ask for help, even at that point. Thank you for contributing this. <3

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  18. Ali

    I lost both my brothers at different times. I don’t think they realized how I and my daughter would still be missing them or how their being gone changed our lives. I hate the stigma. Before I heard of TWLOA I had “LIVE” tattooed on my wrist (That’s not what I mean about change but it does start communication at times.) My daughter and someone I met at an AFSP walk told me about TWLOA. Survivors have stories but we wish we didn’t. I never heard about not using the word “commit” until I was doing research and read it. I went back to school and my daughter is in school. Guess what are degrees are in. Guess where I work now.

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  19. Dayleb

    This post opened my eyes and heart to a new way of seeing why someone would take their life. Thank you for the post Amanda.

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  20. Nicole

    Thank you so much for this post. Your words ring so true for me. My father took his own life on christmas eve this year. It was a shock to myself and my family and I only wish I had been more educated about suicide and the diseases that contribute to it.

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  21. Kelly

    I’m 15 years old and have attempted suicide 4 times, self harm and have been in the hospital 3 times. Every time I tried to take my own life my family (mostly my daddy) told me I was weak and that I was being selfish. I showed my dad this post and he starting crying. I’d never seen him cry before. He held me and told me he was sorry and never knew how it was to feel that way.

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  22. Joan

    I had a brother that commuted suicide a year and 3 mths. We didn’t see any signs of him doing it. He was getting rid of stuff, but we thought he was just cleaning out stuff. We .is him so much.

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  23. Trey Brown

    What a great read. Thank you for this.

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  24. Mark

    You are absolutely right. There’s so much we do not understand about the mind of someone who has taken their own life and those who are considering it. I am so sorry about your brother.

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