Letters to the Editor

Our language should reflect kindness and compassion | Letter to the editor

This letter is in response to the article about the rising number of suicides on Vashon and in King County (“County, island react to spike in youth suicides,” Aug. 17). My precious 14-year-old son, Palmerston Burk, died by suicide in October of 2012.  Did you notice I said “died by” rather than “committed” suicide?

The word “committed” implies judgment and contributes to the stigma and negative connotations associated with suicide. Historically, suicide was considered a crime. Criminals commit crimes, and people who die by suicide are not criminals. A person does not “commit” cancer or a heart attack any more than they “commit” suicide. By changing your language about suicide, you’re offering a countercultural act of kindness and compassion. It may also allow a person who needs help to step forward and ask for it without fear of stigma.

The May 22, 2013, issue of Newsweek magazine contains an exploration of why suicide is an alarmingly common occurrence. Self-harm is the leading cause of death among people in the developed world for ages 15 to 49. Worldwide, a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.

By adjusting our language toward suicide, we can perhaps change the stigma and misunderstanding associated with it. To that end, I urge people to visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at www.afsp.org to educate themselves and help bring this horrible, growing issue out of the darkness.

Finally, I wish to thank the wonderful community of Vashon, which continues to encourage my family and honor my beautiful son’s memory.

— Kathleen Gilligan

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