At one time in my life I did not speak up. Then I went to the opposite extreme and said whatever I wanted, to whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Some may be very surprised to learn that what I say now is intentional and thoughtful. But it is.
I have understood for sometime that I have to decide what my motive for speaking up is. Is it to fill my desire for self expression? Is it to promote change? The answer determines what I say and how. Of course, I still do both.
With that said, my job in suicide prevention has shed light on the value of the words we use. For example, we ask people not to say “successful suicide”. There are many things we want people to be “successful” at but suicide is not one of them so why would we ever put those two words together? Think about it. We don’t say a “successful homicide” do we? Why would we say “successful” in the context of something we do not want to have happen?
We also encourage people not to say “failed suicide attempt”. I think most of us can agree that someone trying to take their life is feeling pretty horrible. The last thing they need is to have it said that they “failed” at something else. Not to mention that generally “failing” is negative but with suicide it is in fact positive. We know for a fact that most people who survive a suicide attempt, will never attempt again (90%). This is good!
How we say things matters immensely. It effects judgment toward others and justifies discrimination. Fear of judgment and discrimination (notice I am not saying stigma) is what prevents so many people from reaching out for help or being willing to learn about uncomfortable topics.
So why not “stigma”? Because who owns that? The person impacted by it or the person/people causing it? Or does it exist freely outside of the people both impacted and doing? According to dictionary.com, Stigma is a “mark of disgrace or infamy, a stain or reproach”. ( https://www.dictionary.com/browse/stigma) But how did the mark get there? Did the person who has the mark put it on themselves? Or did society put it on them?
Clearly I (and honestly many others in the suicide prevention field) believe that the mark has been placed upon people by others so basically, lets make them own it. It is about judgement and discrimination. It is not something that exists freely from individuals who are actively judging and discrimination against others.
So with this I challenge everyone of us to ask, “Am I speaking out for me or for change?” And then allow that answer to help guide us in the way that we speak out. If we are speaking out for change, to save people’s lives or raise awareness about important issues, our language matters. The words we choose impact how other people hear us and whether they listen at all.
Be Brave. Be Well.