The Post should stop using “commit” to describe deaths by suicide. This error appears in many articles, including recently “Insecurities shadowed Hemingway persona ,” Matthew Adams’s review of Mary V. Dearborn’s book “Ernest Hemingway” [Sunday Arts, June 4].
This phrasing is not in alignment with updated Associated Press style guidelines and is considered offensive by many in the mental-health community. While laws criminalizing “self- murder” have long been repealed in most Western countries, the use of the verb “commit” in the context of suicide implies it is still a crime or other immoral act, like murder or adultery. Suicide is neither; it is a serious public-health issue.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans (roughly 40,000 a year) die by suicide than from breast cancer, and an estimated 90 percent have a treatable mental-health condition at the time of their death. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in this country, and the second-leading cause of death for Americans ages 10 to 34. Approximately 20 percent of suicides are veterans.
Using “commit suicide” in newsprint serves to perpetuate the stigma associated with mental-health problems and may discourage those who need help from seeking it.
Additionally, studies have shown that reading about suicide (especially when the method used is described in detail) can be triggering for at-risk individuals. Including links to resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 800-273-8255) at the end of an article could save lives. Additional guidelines for reporters can be found at reportingonsuicide.org .
Helen Hocknell, Gaithersburg
The writer is a volunteer with the Montgomery County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.