What's in a Word?

18 Mar 2016

I don't need to tell you how important words are; why they're written, how they're written and how they're perceived. They bring us together and they set us apart in ways we cannot always conceive when we use them.

I'm saying this because a couple of years ago, a US programme arrived in the UK, the Zero Suicide Initiative; with the fantastic aim of developing fresh approaches to preventing suicide with multi-agency input (e.g. NHS, police, charities, those who had attempted suicide and the bereaved). It was championed by the Lib Dems in the previous government and led to pilot areas being set up around the country. It's doing some great things on minimal funds, but I have always found it hard to get past that word zero, which has coloured my view of the project.

To me it's saying that unlike cancer, heart disease or myriad other ways that eventually kill us all, suicide is one death that is 100% avoidable. But it isn't and it never will be, so why have such an unattainable aspiration that sets people up to fail? Why use language that still makes mental illness other, different, apart? Why add to the stigma and loss for those left behind? Because to my mind using the word zero does all of those things and I'm sure that wasn't the aim of the people who started the initiative.

So what to do about it? Well, have a grumble (I can tick that off the list). Ask that zero be replaced with something else. Or maybe I should just get over myself. After all, it is just a word, it got a huge amount of publicity for the initiative, and the extremely important point is that very committed professionals and volunteers are working together around the country to prevent suicide, improve quality of life and recovery rates. Take this wonderful group, survivors of suicide attempts in Devon, who have been given a voice thanks to a zero suicide initiative in the South West. They used it to craft a letter for anyone who is thinking of taking their own life. It's called A Letter of Hope.

Meanwhile for those who have a loved one suffering from suicidal desires and are struggling to know what to do, there are increasing online resources which you might find useful in the UK and beyond - I thought Metanoia, an Australian website, talked a lot of sense. Please post in the comments below if you know any others that you would recommend.

A View From the Far Side

A Moodscope member.

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