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In my article, “Suicide Prevention – A Mother Speaks Out About The Un-Speakable”(Oct. 2014) I talked about Barbara Swanston being a suicide awareness advocate. Like Barbara, most people become a suicide awareness advocate after a loved ones dies by suicide. The stigma encountered, the silencing of a loved one’s memory – these are but two reasons why advocates are trying to get us talking about suicide.

Stigma encourages silence. Many of us grew up with the notion that suicide is a sin or a crime, so we respond with shame and silence. Sometimes we’re just afraid we’ll hurt the feelings of those left behind. We don’t talk about the suicide. We don’t mention the dead person’s name or talk about his/her childhood or past. We try to wipe the person from history as if he/she never existed.

Suicide awareness advocates encourage honest and open conversations about suicide and the person who died. Say his/her name. That person is still loved and it feels good to hear the name. Names bring back good memories, not just the ones about the suicide. Even if it hurts at the moment, sometimes the release of emotions is what’s needed.

Advocates also hope that by breaking the stigma of suicide, people who are considering suicide as a way out might rethink their choice if they feel they can reach out for help without being labelled mentally ill or a sinful person. Sometimes though a person choses suicide no matter how much help or love is available. Besides shock and all the questions about why, there’s shame, guilt, fear, and anxiety for those left behind by the person. The loss of a loved one to suicide can also bring feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Survivors can feel overwhelmed by what has happened and don’t know what to do much less think. Is what I’m feeling normal? Talking about suicide without shame brings answers or at least a discussion about those questions.

Suicide awareness advocates teach society how to talk about suicide. For instance, we’re used to saying someone ‘committed suicide’. The words ‘committed suicide’ goes back to the times when suicide was considered a crime or a sin. Many people in the suicide awareness community are trying to change that language by encouraging people to use other words instead, such as “died by suicide” and “took his/her life”. Thanks to Barbara, I’m now trying to change the way I use words when talking about suicide.

If you’re not sure how to talk to someone about suicide, there’s many internet forums and suicide prevention organizations that can help you. Here’s a very good suicide awareness video by Barbara Swanston which I hope you’ll watch.

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