The semantics of suicide

I’d been doing quite well with the whole anxiety thing, but recently it’s returned with a vengeance. So that means breathlessness, shakiness and being in a permanent state of worry, overthinking pretty much everything. David is thrilled.

But then the past couple of months have been particularly challenging (see The ripple effect), so it’s hardly surprising. Knowing your child is struggling to the point of ending their life makes every moment seem like an eternity and every sound a hundred times louder. All your senses are heightened and the constant stream of adrenalin means you’re on perpetual high alert, even when they’re sitting safely next to you.

Claudia is through the worst of it, for now, and the brilliant mental health crisis teams in Nottingham and Hertfordshire – thank you, NHS – have discharged her from their acute care. And yet the anxiety remains. I think the combination of Claudia’s depression, a busy job, grief, tiredness and the imminent anniversary of Joe’s death are likely to be the reasons – you think?! – so I’m self-medicating with beta-blockers and cake…*


I’ve been thinking a lot about this time last year, and how Joe must have been feeling while we were carrying on our lives in blissful ignorance, believing him when he told us he was ok. A typical text exchange:

Me: How are you doing?

Joe: I’m doing alright, a lot of work but I’m managing.

Me: Good lad. Love you.

Good lad? Is that it?! Why didn’t I ask if he needed some help? “I’m doing alright” doesn’t exactly allude to an overwhelmingly positive state of mind, so why didn’t I probe further?

When Joe was doing his GCSEs and struggling with English (the only subject our scientific genius found challenging – “It’s not logical!”), I was straight on the case and sorted out Skype tutoring from the best in the business, my darling friend Erica. He loved those sessions, printing out all the exercises she sent him and shutting himself away in our study for his Skype lessons. It helped enormously because Erica taught him in a way that he understood and he sailed through his exam.

So what was I thinking? Just because he was 19, not 15, did I expect him to be able to manage his life without our support? I honestly don’t know what was going through my head, but I can’t stop running those conversations over and over, wishing I’d responded differently…

(I’m listening to Laura Mvula as I write this and Sing to the Moon** has just floored me.)

I may be feeling overwhelming anxiety at the moment but it doesn’t stop anger and frustration bubbling up as well. Before Joe died, I admit to being as ignorant as the next person about the terminology around suicide and depression. But now I know a lot more and there’s one thing that continues to annoy me, so much so that I tweeted about it the other day.

Screen Shot 2018-04-28 at 05.34.22

The media have a responsibility to report suicide accurately and sensitively, and by continuing to allude to it being a crime, no matter whether they intend to or not, they simply aren’t doing that. There would, quite rightly, be an outcry if the media wrote about ‘committing a homosexual act’ and yet suicide was decriminalised 6 years earlier than homosexuality, so why does ‘committing suicide’ still make it into so many headlines and articles?

I did a quick Google search and found articles by OK! and The Hollywood Gossip (to name just a couple) that referred to the DJ Avicii having committed suicide.

But, he didn’t! He may have died by suicide – that is yet to be officially confirmed – but regardless, he didn’t commit a crime in the UK or the US where these two sites are published (although suicide is considered a crime in Oman, where he died). And while OK! and The Hollywood Gossip aren’t necessarily known for their journalistic excellence, they still have a duty to report responsibly. Papyrus have a set of Media Guidelines, for anyone who’s interested.

JoelJoe died from depression. Depression took him over and depression killed him. It’s an illness and he didn’t have a choice. He wasn’t a ‘bit sad’ or ‘feeling a bit low’. His body and mind were consumed by a shitty, insidious and debilitating clinical illness; he didn’t commit a crime by succumbing to it.

Claudia showed me a Facebook post by a chap called Will Katz recently and for me, it sums up how much we need to change when it comes to talking about, not just suicide, but mental illness generally. Here’s an excerpt: “What we need to understand is that the brain is just an organ. It may be the most complicated organ in the body, but it is still just a mass of biological stuff that is susceptible to disease just like a liver or a lung or a pancreas.

“The fact that our culture offers sympathy to a patient with a damaged heart but wags its collective head at a patient with a damaged brain suggests that we really never left the dark ages when it comes to our understanding of mental illness.”

You can read the full post here.

So… let’s talk about mental illness, suicide and depression but please let’s do it sensitively, responsibly and above all, accurately.


*but not wine! 119 days and counting…

**check out this brilliant version with Snarky Puppy

One thought on “The semantics of suicide”

  1. Hi Kit
    It’s Angela Emily’s mum. What an enlightening hugely sensitive and very personal blog. The pain you as a family are going through, the grief at losing Joel and the fear that you came close to losing Claudia ….it’s no wonder that anxiety has entered your life. However even though I don’t know you that well, I get a sense from what Emily has told me that you are all dealing with all of this in a remarkably brave way, that you have become even closer as a family and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Anxiety entered my life for very different reasons so I can relate in part to the effect it has on you as a person but you will get the better of it and you will be able to control it ..eventually. Sending love xx


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