Right message, wrong vocabulary

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Issue: A major metropolitan news outlet used the phrase ‘committed suicide’ repeatedly in an online article about emergency services workers who are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. The overarching message of the article was positive and focused on a campaign to establish a dedicated hospital ward to for emergency workers. However, the language was problematic.

Result: StigmaWatch offered constructive feedback to the news outlet on how to refer to suicide appropriately and congratulated them on covering such an important issue. The news team was very happy to take our recommendations on board and the article was amended to read ‘died by suicide’ in relevant paragraphs.

Why it mattered: It can be hard for people who are affected by mental illness or suicidal behaviour to reach out and seek help. Fear of judgment can prevent them from seeking support, and language that associates suicide with a crime can compound the anxiety. Instead of ‘committed suicide’, the preferred terminology is ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took their own life’, according to both the Australian Press Council and Mindframe’s guidelines.

Last updated: 7 March 2018

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