Suicide – The Debate


We invite all survivors, bereaved by suicide, to enter the debate with us on aspects and terminology surrounding suicide. We also invite you to share any letter you send to the media related to the impact on lives post suicide and to share Suffolk SoBS’ vision of support for survivors in  the UK.

Please consider sending letters to your local newspapers and television stations. We are happy to print any responsible letter. The first aim is to eradicate the outdated and insensitive term “committed suicide”. The second goal is to obtain funding to create a template or standard of care to be used throughout the UK.

Do not sit idly by and do nothing. Be part of the movement that is working to change views and terminology.

We need to debate openly, intelligently, accurately and sensitively about all aspects of suicide awareness, prevent more suicides and support  survivors post suicide by listening to them. SoBS is user led and exists only for the needs of survivors. As a first step we ask to be better supported by first on the scene and agencies who are in a position to signpost.

Why is society willing to express compassion for all forms of death apart from suicide?

Survivors do not want their loved ones, or themselves, to be defined negatively by the last act of the person they have loved and lost.

Spread the word criminals commit crime. Suicide is NOT a crime.


BBC Look East – Tuesday 21st Feb 2017

Good morning
I write concerning your news article regarding the suicide of Dean Saunders in Chelmsford prison, in which your reporter said “committed suicide.” I am part of an organisation called the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide and we are campaigning to have the terminology used by the media brought into the 21st century.
The government recently announced that it was going to address this situation, which is long overdue.  The Daily Mail recently printed my letter concerning this subject and as it covers the subject of which you should be aware, I reproduce it below.
Since 1961, suicide hasn’t been a crime.  Murderers commit murder, burglars commit burglary, criminals commit crimes.
 
People who take their own life don’t commit a crime and the expression “commit suicide” should be consigned to the history books.
 
Suffolk branches of the national Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide organisation have highlighted this unacceptable terminology which is still in use by the police, coroners, TV reporters and newspapers, with reports such as “Prison deaths increased by 21 per cent to 324, including 107 prisoners who committed suicide.” (Mail)
 
In the UK, suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 50.  Experts consider that each suicide has a profound effect on up to 12 people.  This doesn’t take into consideration acquaintances and colleagues.
 
It’s a damning indictment of our society that there is precious little help for those survivors, bereavement by suicide being so different from other forms of loss, but this outdated terminology rubs salt into already raw wounds.
 
In this country, 6,233 people took their own lives in 2014.  Those in public office will continue to use this distressingly outdated expression until someone says “Enough!”
I have emailed you before on exactly this topic but clearly, no-one took any notice.
There are three support groups for the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide in Suffolk and at least one in Essex.  The Suffolk groups in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft are run by Suzy Clifford.  Perhaps I could ask you to consider inviting Suzy and myself onto one of your programmes to explain this to your viewers.  It matters and as the government is now addressing this situation perhaps Look East would like to be at the forefront of reporting it.
Thank you.
Regards
Anne Maxwell

Who Do You Think You Are Broadcast 1st December 2016

Dear Mrs Clifford

Reference CAS-4120302-YFB2QN

Many thanks for getting in touch regarding Who Do You Think You Are? Broadcast 1 December.
I’m sorry to hear about your husband and appreciate you were unhappy with the use of the term “committed suicide”.

Who Do You Think You Are? is a series in which celebrities trace their ancestry. We have no control over which terms they may use, however for presenters, we do have a section within our Editorial Guidelines which state that other phrases are more preferable.

Amanda was referring to her grandfather and the main focus was how she wanted to find out about the “kind of man he was before it all went so dark for him.”

We value all of our audience feedback and your concerns have been sent across to senior management. They have also been published on our overnight report which circulates the BBC daily. This helps to inform and educate current and future broadcasts.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards

(Name removed)

BBC Complaints Team

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints



Daily Mail – Tuesday 15th November 2016

Sir

As the Daily Mail is the leading campaigning newspaper in England I write to ask for your help in spearheading an attempt to right what I, and very many others, see as a disgrace in today’s society.

Since 1961 suicide has not been a crime.  Murderers commit murder, burglars commit burglary, criminals commit crimes.  People who take their own life do NOT commit a crime and the expression ”Commit suicide” should be consigned to the history books.

When I was a girl, my grandmother’s sewing basket contained a spool of thread labelled “Nigger Brown.”  It is unthinkable that such a thing could happen now, since the “n” word has rightly been shown to be completely unacceptable in today’s society.

The Suffolk branches of a national organisation  –  Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide  –  have highlighted this unacceptable terminology, which is still in use by the police, coroners, TV reporters and newspapers.  I am sorry to say that on 28 October 2016 your paper carried a report “Prison violence surges by 34% to a record high,” which stated “Deaths increased by 21 per cent to 324  –  including 107 prisoners who committed suicide………”

Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under the age of 50 in this country today (and has been for several years).  Experts consider that each suicide has a profound effect on up to 12 people.  This does not take into consideration all the other people likely to be affected  –  for example, acquaintances and colleagues.  A very conservative guess could put this at number at 10, which makes the absolute minimum of people affected by each suicide 22*.

It is a damning indictment of our society that there is precious little help for those survivors (bereavement by suicide being so very different from other forms of bereavement) but the continued use of this out-dated terminology rubs salt into already raw wounds.

To show the extent of this very sad situation please consider this.  In this country, 6233 people took their own life in 2014.  On its own, this figure is appalling, but if it is multiplied by *22 the minimum number of those affected reaches a staggering 137,126!

Those in public office will continue to use this distressing, out-dated expression until someone, somewhere stands up and says “Enough is enough!”  Would the Daily Mail be prepared to stand up for all those survivors who don’t have a voice?

Sincerely

Anne Maxwell (Ms)


Look East – Wednesday 13th  April 2016

I write concerning your article about bereavement by suicide and the organisation called Chums, working in Bedfordshire. It was mentioned that help has been available to children but not to adults.  This is incorrect.

For some years an organisation called Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) has been very effective in supporting adults bereaved by suicide and holds monthly meetings in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft as well as telephone support at any time.  The numbers of survivors attending these meetings is growing rapidly.  For your information their website is suffolk-sobs.org.uk  –  you might like to have a look at it.

Had I not had their support when I lost my son to suicide four years ago I would be in a very different place to where I am now and I travel from Maldon, Essex to attend their Ipswich meetings.

SOBS is a national organisation and many local health authorities have recognised the work that they do, advising people affected to contact them.  Bearing in mind that the most common cause of death in men under the age of 50 in this country is suicide it is vitally important that the invaluable support given by this organisation is not overlooked, and I felt very strongly that your report suggested that there was no support available specifically for those bereaved by suicide.  It is recognised that bereavement by suicide is very different from any other type of bereavement and therefore survivors need a very different type of support, which is available through SOBS.

Sincerely,
Anne Maxwell (Ms)


ITV – Loose Women – Use of negative language on Friday 4th March 2016

Dear Suzy,

Thank you for your email regarding Friday’s programme.

The point you raise regarding the phrase ‘committed suicide’ is an interesting one. As you said, suicide used to be an offence and yet the phrase is still in general use. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and I will pass your thoughts on to our editorial team.

I appreciate you taking the time to write in and if you should have any comments or enquiries in the future, please do get back in touch.

Regards,

Penny

Viewer Services Manager – Daytime

Loose Women – Viewer Services – Daytime

Tel: 0344 88 14150 (option 4)

E-mail: loose.women@itv.com Web: www.itv.com/loosewomen


Response from the BBC following contact regarding the use of the term “committed suicide” broadcast on the BBC News at Ten

Dear Mrs Clifford

Reference CAS-3706710-D39F0Z

Thank you for contacting us about BBC News at Ten broadcast on BBC One on 15 February.

I can see you were concerned at the use of the phrase “committed suicide” used by our presenter in an interview with the Prime Minister about mental health issues.

Please let me assure you that no offence or upset was intended by our reporter in this instance and that we do understand the sensitivities with the language used in such reports.

I am sorry that you were unhappy with this particular report and I have passed on your very strong views to our BBC News team.

Feedback such as yours is vital in helping us with future reports on this issue. I have also made your comments available to senior BBC management on a daily report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards

(name removed )

BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account


Email Sent to ITV’s Loose Women contact email –  7th January 2016

I would be most grateful if the following can be passed on to the Loose Women production Team. Thank You.

Dear Loose Women,

A close friend of mine texted to tell me about June Sarpong talking about the recent loss of her brother to suicide on today’s broadcast of Loose Women.

As a man I don’t normally watch this programme, but having lost my wife to suicide and being a helper at an organisation that supports those left behind after a suicide, I felt compelled to watch this on itvplayer.

Firstly, I must say how brave June was telling her story so soon after the loss of her brother.  Suicide amongst young men is a huge problem in the UK and the more we can discuss men’s inability to discuss their feelings and sometimes depression, the more likely men will be to seek professional help and/or talk to family/friends.

After watching the broadcast I took a quick look at the Loose Women website and noticed the long list of support organisations that offer support to anyone feeling lonely, depressed, isolated and contemplating taking their own life.

Can I take this opportunity to bring your attention to the charity for those that have lost someone dear to them, to suicide. This is quite a shameless plug, but I feel it is very relevant to June Sarpong’s situation: where she now finds herself struggling to come to terms with all the emotions and questions following her loss.

Also, most importantly, those suffering from the loss of a loved one to suicide can often feel isolated, confused, depressed and more vulnerable to suicide themselves. Many of June’s comments during the broadcast are echoed by other survivors at SoBS support group meetings all over the UK.

Can I please draw your attention to SoBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide). The national website at
http://uk-sobs.org.uk/  will explain in much greater depth what we, at SoBS, are all about and I hope you can take time out to read it.

Lastly, in the description of the broadcast your website states ‘Sam committed suicide last last year’

This is entirely accurate but in my, and many others view, the use of the term “committed suicide” is an outmoded use of language. ‘Committed’ goes back to pre 1961 when suicide WAS a crime. For many suicide survivors, the use of the word committed and its association with crime only goes on to further the hurt felt by somebody already traumatised by their loss and the resultant guilt/trauma. As a survivor myself I much prefer the term “took his/her own life”.

Within the Suffolk branches of SoBS we have been very active in trying to bring about change in this outdated use of language and will always raise this with media organisations when we discover its use. May I therefore request that you consider changing the website wording on what I otherwise consider to be excellent and sensitive coverage of June’s terrible loss. I do not consider this (word change) a case of political correctness, but I do see it as a way of preventing further hurt to already vulnerable people struggling with their loss.

Once again if you have a few minutes please check out Suffolk SoBS campaign to ban this outmoded term at
http://suffolk-sobs.org.uk/petition/ and the link to our petition.

So in conclusion, well done ITV and Loose Women! But more so, I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to June and applaud her on her immense bravery so soon after her loss. Well done June and huge hugs to her from all suicide survivors that ‘get’ what she is going through.

Yours,
Chris Lodge

(Helper with Suffolk SoBS) http://suffolk-sobs.org.uk/

Tel. (removed)

……..

Update 10th Jan 2016:  Apart from an automated reply to the email saying in part that all emails are read, no response has been forthcoming from the ITV Loose Women production team. The ITV website still mentions the phrase “committed suicide”.


Letter sent to Mrs C Beasley – Murray (Senior Coronor) 12th October 2015

Dear Mrs Beasley – Murray

I would like to draw your attention to the two newspaper articles enclosed with this letter. One features a report on an inquest and your remarks and the other concerns a campaign over the terminology used to describe a suicide. I note you have been quoted as using the expression ‘ committed suicide.’

Speaking as someone who has been bereaved by suicide and as a member of the national support network, SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are encouraging people to consider the language used in the matter of suicide. The term ‘commit suicide’ is an out-dated term and a throwback from the days when to attempt suicide was a crime. Today it is not.

When we speak about the manner in which someone has lost their life we do not say  ‘he committed cancer’ or ‘she committed a heart attack’ and it is therefore inappropriate to continue using commit suicide which is now a term that we survivors find upsetting and offensive. Suzy Clifford (SOBS) is in contact with several agencies ,including governmental, about the continued use of this out-dated expression, which should be consigned to the history books along with other language which is no longer considered appropriate, or in some cases ,is illegal.

It is a very unfortunate fact that in this country the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 is not alcohol, drugs or road traffic accidents but suicide and as each suicide affects a wide circle of individuals in the form of family, friends, colleagues etc the language in general use is of great importance

Yours Sincerely,
A Maxwell (Ms)


Reply to Suzanne from Sir David Amess MP (Southend West) 23rd September 2015

Support from MP David Amess

Dear Suzanne,

I am so very, very sorry to learn about your husband’s death in 1995. I absolutely understand the trauma that loved ones suffer as a result of a relative’s suicide. I also very much appreciate the point that you are making about the associated stigma.

I will certainly make representations on your behalf.
With all good wishes,

Sir David Amess MP


Letter Published in the Daily Mail on Tuesday September 22 2015

Emotive Subject

Suicide is an emotive and sensitive subject and, sadly still carries a degree of stigma. In part, this is probably because ‘committed suicide’ remains the term most commonly used to describe the act of someone who has taken their own life.

Many who, like me, have been bereaved in such circumstances, find it unkind and offensive.

Suffolk SoBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) has raised a government petition asking that the term be changed to ‘died by suicide’. Suicide was decriminalised in 1961, but the term still remains, implying that it’s a crime.

In 2013,there were 6,233 deaths by suicide, and for each death between five and 12 relatives and friends are estimated to be affected.

SoBS is a national charity ,and the Suffolk group has given my family and me support since the loss of my husband in 2013.

Mrs Helen Melhuish, Sudbury, Suffolk.


Email sent to the Hundon Herald on 16th September 2015

 Changing Suicide Terminology

In March 2013 my husband Roger ended his own life by suicide. For those of you who knew him, he was probably one of the last people of whom you would have expected. We as a family have received a lot of support, kindness and understanding from friends and neighbours in the village and I would like to take this opportunity to express our most grateful thanks.

Suicide is a very sensitive and emotive subject and although we are in the 21st century there does sadly still remain a lot of stigma associated with it. It is a subject many find hard to talk about and probably until it affects you, it is a subject most don’t really ever think about. However, it is felt that some of the stigma still associated with suicide can be attributed to the term ‘Committed Suicide’ which is the on most commonly used. Suicide was decriminalised in 1961 but sadly the term was not changed to reflect this. By association, the continued use of ‘Committed’ perpetuates the belief that it is a crime ie one commits murder or commits a burglary

We as a family have receive support from the Suffolk group of SoBS(Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) a user lead group who have all been affected similarly by a suicide. To most survivors we find the term ‘Committed Suicide’ hurtful to the memory of those whom we have lost. We would like it changed to ‘Died by Suicide’ as indeed you would say that someone Died of Cancer or Died of a Heart Attack.

We have raised a government petition –  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106754  and have until February 2016 to raise 10,000 signatures at which the Government will consider a possible change or 100,000 signatures which could raise a debate about a change.

If you feel able please support our petition

Thank you,
Helen Melhuish


Email sent to Matthew Hancock MP on 13th September 2015

Dear Mr Hancock,

I live in Hundon. In March 2013 my husband took his own life – he was 63.

I/we as a family, have received a lot of support from SoBS (Suffolk group) which holds meetings in 3 venues in Bury, Ipswich and Lowestoft each month.

It is a charity so relies totally on money that we can raise through events or from donations.

We are at present trying to encourage the change of wording for suicide from the usual used terminology ‘Committed Suicide’ to the use of ‘Died by Suicide’.

Suzy Clifford(the Suffolk coordinator) and myself had a meeting with Jo Churchill MP and she has said she will support us as much as able

We have raised a petition https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106754 We hope that perhaps if we can encourage people not to say Committed – the word indicating that suicide is still a crime we might be able to reduce the amount of stigma that still exists as far as suicide is concerned and makes the grief of survivors- like myself and my family even harder.

My husband was only 1 of 6233 people in UK who took their own life in 2013.I hope that you could perhaps feel able to support our petition and give voice if possible to our campaign too.

Thank you,
Helen Melhuish (Mrs)

………

Reply from  Sam Evans ,Parliamentary Assistant to the Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP on Wednesday 23 September 2015

Dear Mrs Melhuish,

Thank you for your email dated 13th September to Matthew Hancock MP. I am sorry to read of your sad personal circumstances and can see why this is a subject you care passionately about. I shall ensure that Matthew sees your email and link.

Thank you again for contacting Matthew about this

Kind Regards,
Sam


Email sent to BBC Look East on Wednesday 26th August 2015

Dear Mr White

This evening you broadcast an item on a group of Young Farmers trying to raise awareness of Suicide and raising money for Papyrus. They said they are also trying to reduce the stigma associated with it and also that of Mental health.

My husband ended his own life two and half years ago and I/we as a family have been supported by the Suffolk branch of SoBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide)

The terminology generally used is that someone committed suicide. Indeed within I minute both yourself and Amelia Reynolds used this term prior to the full report. As a group (Suffolk SoBS) and many other who have been similarly bereaved feel that by the use of the term ‘committed ‘in relation to a death by suicide, it continues the wrong understanding that suicide is a crime. Indeed it was until 1961,when it was decriminalised. Sadly however, the terminology was not also changed.

As a group, by lobbying newspapers and the media we hope we hope that they will use ‘Died by Suicide’ instead. Perhaps then the term Committed Suicide will be relegated to the history books in the same way as many other terms once used have also been. There is sadly still stigma attached to suicide, but I refuse to feel ashamed of the last act of someone who I loved. He was a wonderful person who we are not ashamed to speak of frequently.

Your programme by doing the report are also helping to erase the stigma by purely televising it.Those young people  too are amazing by talking and raising awareness.The sister obviously loved her brother and is trying to help others through her loss and therfore ensuring that his death wasn’t in vain. So please, perhaps you to can help us to erase the stigma by changing your terminology too.

Criminals commit crime. People commit murder. You would say that someone died of a heart attack, so why can’t people say that ‘whoever’ Died by Suicide.

Thank You,
Yours Sincerely,

Helen Melhuish (Mrs)


Email sent to Radio 4 on 4th August 2015

Dear Mr Humphrys,

I write regarding the feature on Today about a woman of 75 who travelled to Switzerland to end her own life and the subsequent interview with her partner. You used the expression ‘commit suicide’ on two occasions.

Speaking as someone who has been bereaved by suicide and as a member of a national support network, SoBS(Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are encouraging people to consider the language used in the matter of suicide. The term ‘commit suicide’ is an outdated term and a throwback from the days when to attempt suicide was actually a crime. Today, it is not.

When we speak about the manner in which someone has lost their life we do not say ‘he committed cancer’ or ‘she committed a heart attack ‘ and it is therefore inappropriate to continue using ‘commit suicide’ which is now a term that we survivors find upsetting and offensive. Suzy Clifford is in contact with several agencies, including governmental, about the continued use of this outdated expression, which should be consigned to the history books along with other language which is no longer considered appropriate or, in some cases, is illegal.

It is a very unfortunate fact that in this country the biggest killer of men under the age of 50 is not alcohol, drugs or road traffic accidents but suicide and as each suicide affects a wide circle of individuals in the form of family, friends, colleagues etc the language in general use is of great importance

Yours sincerely,

Anne Maxwell (Ms)