In 1961, the Suicide Act came into force decriminalising the act of suicide in England and Wales. Before that, it was a criminal offense for anyone to take one’s own life, and anyone attempting suicide and failing could be prosecuted and imprisoned. The families of those succeeding could potentially be prosecuted!
Suicide was considered an act of self-murder, so to die by suicide was referred to in the same language as that used to describe other criminal acts. Commit murder/manslaughter, commit a crime, commit fraud, etc.
Although the introduction of the Suicide Act nearly 60 years ago meant the act of taking one’s own life was no longer a crime, the term “committed suicide” has stayed with us in the English language. Also, as suicide is considered a sudden death, police are obliged to investigate, including taking witness statements from survivors, friends, and colleagues. They are obliged to seize suicide notes (if left) and relevant communications devices such as phones to be used as evidence of suicide. In the mind of some survivors, this necessary police involvement can often lead to the wrong perception of them being treated like a criminal.
For most suicide survivors, many of whom may have discovered their loved ones post suicide, the trauma and inevitable guilt felt is made much worse by the continued common usage of the old criminal terminology “committed suicide”.
People often say that these are only words and that the term is commonly used and recognised in the English language. They say suicide survivors are being over-sensitive to what they perceive to be two little words. The reality is, however, for the vast majority of survivors is that the continued usage, especially in the media, is very hurtful and disrespectful of those loved ones they have lost.
Reporting Suicide and the Media Guidelines
IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, in their “Guidance on Reporting Suicide” guidelines, discusses the use of language. In their guidelines under the section language, they state that although IPSO “does not seek to limit the language that journalists can use to describe suicide”.
They acknowledge that “many organisations working in the area of suicide prevention are concerned about the use of the phrase ‘commit suicide’ and argue that the phrasing stigmatises suicide and is insensitive to those affected by suicide. They prefer to refer to a person’s decision to take their own life, or that they died by suicide.”
Television Editorial Guidelines
In section 5.3.47 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines, the BBC also refers to the decriminalising of suicide and the offense that may be caused by the term “commit”.
Although guidelines exist for the reporting of suicide in the media, we continue to see and hear the C-word (commit) used time and time again when referring to suicide. It is our aim within HOPE to relegate this term to the history books.
We, therefore, invite all survivors, bereaved by suicide, to enter the debate with us on aspects and terminology surrounding suicide, especially the use of the C-word. Please consider sending letters to your local newspapers and television stations when you notice them breaking their own guidelines. We are happy to print any responsible letter. Our aim is to eradicate the outdated and insensitive term “committed suicide”.
Do not sit idly by and do nothing. Be part of the movement that is working to change views and terminology. It is widely recognised that inappropriate and outdated language does have an effect on people. There are other phrases that have been consigned to the history books.
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.
Loose Women – ITV – 3rd June 2020
Suzy’s complaint regarding the use of the term ‘Committed suicide’ used again on ITV’s Loose Women:-
Hope After Suicide Loss (HOPE)
Once more HOPE is forced to put pen to paper. Please find attached the letter and promises you made last year. On our website, you will find evidence of HOPE reaching out to both ITV and BBC Television and requesting all presenters no longer use negative and offensive language like ‘Committed Suicide’. www.hopeaftersuicideloss.org.uk
As you and your presenters steadfastly refuse to support those bereaved by suicide by simply censoring a term that originates from the criminal system I was initially hesitant to waste my time further.
On June 8th 2009 at midday I discovered my husband’s body and this moment which happened eleven years ago today has prompted me to continue to honour him and all people that have died by suicide. Lodging my complaint now and in the future remains as relevant as it was when I first wrote to you several years ago.
Last week Loose Woman discussed the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd. Ruth Langsford (RL) was the main presenter and she was joined by Linda Robson and Saira Khan in the studio with Janet Street Porter (JSP) by link at home.
RL asked JSP for her views and in her response, she casually used the term ‘Committed Suicide’ The letter attached and dated 29 July, 2019 is addressed to Hope After Suicide Loss from ITV. You are responding to a complaint submitted by HOPE against Saira Khan who last year used the term ‘Committed Suicide’ on live air.
ITV responded ‘it was truly never Saira’s intention to cause offense and I have ensured that your views on using this outdated term have been passed on’. Sadly, Saira Khan sat on the panel of Loose Woman presenters last week and made no comment when her colleague JSP chose to use a term that reinforces the message suicide is a crime.
I look forward to your reply and apology but would much prefer a genuine and sincere response. I would like you to ask the presenters to consider apologising on live air for their use of inappropriate language that continues to cause hurt and pain. Often Loose Woman claims to be advocates of mental health but are clearly sending out mixed messages.
Your presenters live incredibly privileged lives and are in a position to make a difference. The difference they have made thus far is to cause more misery to vulnerable people who are living through the mental torture of suicide loss. Survivors who access HOPE’s service eagerly await your response.
Anne’s complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org:-
Last week, Janet Street-Porter was commenting on the racial issue of the regrettable death of George Floyd in America. She used the term “committed suicide” about which I have complained to the programme in the past. This term is EXTREMELY offensive to those people who have been bereaved in this way! Why?
SINCE 1961 IT HAS NOT BEEN AN OFFENCE TO TAKE ONE’S OWN LIFE.
MURDERERS COMMIT MURDER and BURGLARS COMMIT BURGLARY BUT SOMEONE TAKING THEIR OWN LIFE COMMITS NO CRIME.
The suggestion that they do causes manifold distress to those left behind who are invariably coping with the most traumatic form of bereavement imaginable. The government has directed the police, magistrates and coroners to desist using this type of language and to use, instead, “died by suicide” or “took their own life.”
Having complained about this in the past and having been assured you take on board the opinions of your viewers, please would you tell me
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS OF LOOSE WOMEN THAT MAKES THEM TOTALLY IGNORE SOMETHING THAT AFFECTS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE EVERY YEAR?
In my opinion, the total disregard and thereby contempt shown by these people smacks of an intellectual arrogance that is beyond belief.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men in this country and numbers continue to rise. In line with this, so does the vast number of people bereaved by suicide. I belong to a countywide support group that is naming and shaming Loose Women on their website (Hope After Suicide Loss) and I certainly do not subscribe to the belief that “any publicity is good publicity!”
Shame on you, shame on ITV and shame on Loose Women. Championing racial equality is fantastic but how about you champion something much closer to home – something in YOUR OWN back yard?
Yours, one VERY angry viewer
Anne’s complaint appears to have received this ‘generic’ response from ITV’s viewerservices email address:-
Thank you for your recent email.
I can confirm that your comments have been noted and registered here at ITV.
Thank you for taking the time to contact ITV.
Customer & Viewer Services Agent.
ITV Viewer Services | ITV plc | email@example.com
BBC Breakfast 6th May 2020
This morning your North America correspondent, Peter Bowes, was reporting on Donald Trumps’ proposals to “get America moving.” When referring to the impact of lockdown, Mr Bowes made reference to those who have “committed suicide.”
I write to express my anger that, in spite of repeated complaints submitted to the BBC and assurances that the corporation will adhere to government guidelines, your reporters persist in using the expression COMMITTED SUICIDE. Suicide has not been a crime since 1961. Murderers commit murder and burglars commit burglary but those who take their own life do not commit a crime. Suicide numbers continue to rise and the use of this barbaric and iconoclastic expression merely increases the trauma of loss for those who are suffering this awful form of bereavement.
The government has directed the police, magistrates and coroners to revise their language, suggesting more appropriate terminology, such as “died by suicide,” “took his/her own life,” or even “completed suicide” (an American term). ANYTHING has to be better than the continued use of this dreadful expression which, like the N word, should be consigned to the history books.
I am disappointed that large media organisations such as yourself continue to inflict additional misery on those already suffering from the very worst kind of bereavement.
also, relating to the same news item, from Suzy
It has taken me time and consideration before submitting this complaint. Despite repeated attempts and pleas to both the BBC and ITV and their assurances that the outdated term committed suicide’ will no longer be used and the government guidelines will be adhered to, this insensitive language is still being used by your reporters. Your North America correspondent Peter Bowes was reporting on Donald Trump’s proposals to get America moving on BBC Breakfast, 6th May 2020.
When referring to the impact of lock-down Mr. Bowes made reference to those who have ‘committed suicide’, this is simply outrageous, insensitive and totally unacceptable in the 21st century. The government has directed the police, magistrates, and coroners courts to revise their language and suggest ‘died by suicide’,’took his/her own life’, or even completed suicide as appropriate alternatives. This outdated term like the ‘N’ word should be consigned to the history books.
It appears the BBC and ITV do not agree with the government and actively promote using judgmental language that only adds to the misery of those bereaved by suicide. I represent hundreds of survivors who belong to an organisation called Hope After Suicide Loss and we will continue to name and shame on our website the BBC, ITV and all those who are in a position to to make a difference but refuse to do so by continuing to use offensive language.
Here is the BBC response to Anne’s complaint…
Dear Ms Maxwell,
Thank you for contacting us about Breakfast on BBC One, 6 May
We note your concerns regarding comments made by Peter Bowes during the programme.
We would highlight that BBC Style Guide states the following regarding our reporting on suicide ‘Some people are offended by the use of the term “commits suicide”, as they say it implies a criminal action. The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines say that “kills oneself” or “takes one’s life” are preferable options.’
We would highlight that Peter was specifically referring to comments made by President Donald Trump when stating, “At the same time he said people are dying anyway because of the economic crisis, he says some people are turning to drugs, others are committing suicide”
We acknowledge that you feel it was inappropriate for Peter Bowes to use the term on this occasion and I’ve recorded your feedback on our audience feedback report. This ensures your complaint is made available to senior management across the BBC and the team over at Breakfast
This report is one of the most widely read sources of feedback throughout the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future output.
Thanks again for bringing this our attention.
BBC Complaints Team
Young, British & Depressed – Channel 4 – 29th July 2019
Subject: Young, British and Depressed – Dispatches 29th July 2019
I lost my son to suicide in January 2014. The issue of suicide has been much more brought to the public’s attention in the last year or two, which is to be commended. Because of my own loss, I was keen to watch your programme, to try and get a better understanding of how young adults get to the point where the only choice that they feel that they have, is to take their own lives.
I found your programme to be well thought out, giving balanced views from those in crisis, as well as those working in the health industry, who do their best with massive under funding, and support from the Government.
I would not be so bold as to say who your target audience was, but I am sure that like me, those who are already bereaved were keenly watching to obtain a better understanding, and to ascertain a better idea of what is being done in this country to help those in such great need. What I didn’t expect was for one of your contributors, James Davies, to use the term “committed suicide”. Was this ghastly error (suicide ceased to be a crime since 1961) missed in ignorance, or left in because it has more impact? For those of us on the path of recovery from the loss of our loved ones, to have them classed as criminals only rubs salt into the wound. My son, and others like him, are not here to defend themselves against this slanderous comment, but I am. Put yourselves in my shoes, and see if you still think it a broadcast worthy comment.
Much has changed during my life time. This country has always considered itself to be a welcoming and tolerant society to one and all. May you please give some dignity to those who have died by suicide, their families, friends, and colleagues in the future.
TO Whom it May Concern,
Ref: Young, British & Depressed
On Monday 29 July I watched your programme titled ‘Young, British & Depressed’. It was informative and if nothing else highlighted the growing need for government to invest financially in mental health which I understand historically has been lacking.
During the programme Dr James Davies who has led a study on withdrawal from antidepressants claimed in the most severe cases he has known people who have ‘committed suicide’. I was quite taken aback that a professional would choose to use this outdated term and not adopt more sensitive language like he has known people who have died by suicide. I thought by now it was common knowledge suicide was in fact decriminalised in 1961 and using this outdated and unacceptable term can incite judgement to be passed on the person who has died and/or on the loved ones left behind..
Murderers commit murder,burglars commit burglary but suicide is no longer considered a crime. For those of us who have been bereaved by suicide to hear in the 21st century a professional use such an offensive term is very upsetting. The BBC has taken a different approach and have regularly informed all their presenters this term is no longer acceptable.
I would appreciate a reply to my letter responding to the reasons why your presenter a qualified psychologist ,Dr James Davies and Channel 4 can justify using language which will offend so many of their viewers.
CEO Hope After Suicide Loss
Loose Women – ITV – Tue 9th July 2019
Sent: 09 July 2019 18:58:02
Subject: Social Media Trolling Topic
Whilst watching your programme this morning, I was dismayed to hear Ms Saira Khan use the term “committed suicide”.
Ms Khan has featured in our homes since 2005, and I do not believe with her being an obviously very caring mother now, that she would wish to use offensive terminology, however that is what she did.
I lost my beloved son to suicide, by suicide, by taking his own life, word it as you please, but he DID NOT COMMIT A CRIME. Please understand, that it is hard enough to recover from the suicide of a loved one, without the act being classed as a criminal one.
As I said, I do not believe that any upset was intended. Indeed, I believe that Ms Khan is only too aware of the negative effects that social media can have on gentle souls, but I would kindly ask you to pass on these comments to your well meant team of ladies.
I sincerely hope that in the future they will refrain from using this term. I am sure that if, put in my place, they would not wish their loved one to be labelled a criminal, unintended or otherwise.
Date: 10 July 2019 at 22:14:51 BST
Subject: Loose women
To all concerned at Loose Women,
After watching your show this week regarding “should we all quit social media” I was very upset to hear the words “committed suicide” being used. I lost my dad in 2017, he took his own life, my hero in my life, decided he could take no more for reasons I will never know. To then hear this comment is so very hurtful to survivors of suicide loss. My dad was a law abiding, happy and a very caring person, he did not commit a crime the day I lost him. Murderers and thief’s commit crimes not those, like my dad who felt they couldn’t carry on living. Please rethink on what words you use next time as suicide is not a criminal offence.
On Wednesday, July 10, 2019
I am not normally someone who feels strongly enough to write to producers / presenters to complain about an issue on a programme.
However, on Tuesday’s edition of Loosewomen one of your presenters used a phrase that resonates personally with me in an extremely negative way.
I think it was Saira Khan who at one stage mentioned, “committed suicide” during the discussion on social media trolling. My mum took her own life in 1983 when I was 9 and since then life has been challenging enough as well as dealing with the stigma attached to the word suicide on a daily basis.
I only ask that as a huge organisation you try and inform people about acceptable terminology today. I appreciate that unfortunately it is still a commonly used phrase. But we all to need to understand that many other outdated/unacceptable/offensive phrases in all areas of life have been successfully filtered out of society. Unless things are highlighted, then they will never change.
Suicide is not a crime nor a sin. It is the unique means of the cause of death of someone, through their own actions. Tragically, this is when they are in a place they can see no other way out of.
The illegality of suicide dates back to the 1300s and the UK decriminalised the act in 1961.
This is not a complaint per se, just advice and a bit of learning for anyone involved in high profile/public positions.
Thank you for reading and please pass this message onto Saira and everyone involved in your programme. Please don’t think you have been singled out, a journalist on The Sunday Times for example, is receiving a similar email following an article in print at the weekend.
It is a daily challenge of awareness for anyone bereaved in this manner, but “Tall oaks grow from little acorns “…
I hope that the subject line of this message did not alarm you.
I have thought for several days about how I could possibly get your attention because I have written to you on more than one occasion in the past and have received the generic response and nothing else. You’d think I had been writing to suggest a change in your studio decoration……….
Again, I find it necessary to write to you about the language used on your programme. I don’t blame Saira Khan for using the term “committed suicide” since it is obvious that no-one on your production team has ever asked any of your presenters not to use that anachronism!
I am a mother who lost her son to suicide and I can assure you that the continued use of that term rubs salt into the deepest of wounds – wounds which I can assure you will NEVER heal.
The UK government has sent out directives to local authorities, coroners, the police and magistrates to stop them using the term so why doesn’t your programme? There are many more acceptable terms – such as died by suicide, took his/her own life, died by his/her own hand or effected/completed suicide. Suicide as a term for taking one’s own life cannot be changed, but coupling it with the term committed certainly can be changed and it is surely incumbent upon those in the media to set a good example.
The BBC has instructed its presenters not to use the term and a local BBC producer actually took the time to ring me and apologise for someone using the term, assuring me that steps had been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Murderers commit murder and burglars commit burglary but those who take their own life DO NOT COMMIT A CRIME and this has been so since 1961. Outdated terminology should be consigned to the history books, along with the N word – which I assume you would be outraged to hear any of your participants use when discussing racial issues!
Bearing in mind that each suicide is estimated to affect at least 70 individuals (some of them profoundly) and suicide is THE BIGGEST KILLER OF MEN UNDER THE AGE OF 50 IN THIS COUNTRY, your programme is effectively offending a very large number of people.
Do you want to reflect the views of ordinary people? How about having an on-air discussion about this? When some colleagues and I asked people in Bury St Edmunds to sign a petition about banning the use of this terminology only one person out of hundreds refused to sign it, and he was drunk!
I look forward to receiving a considered reply in addition to your usual automatic response.
Anne Maxwell (Ms)
Good Morning Loose Women,
Today on your programme whilst debating ‘Should we all quit Social Media’ Saira Khan in debate with Janet Street Porter chose to use the outdated and negative term ‘Committed Suicide’.
I have been writing for several years on behalf of those bereaved by suicide to Loose Women asking you all to be mindful of the hurt and damaged caused by using this unhelpful term on your programme.
Sadly, to date I have not inspired you to change but I am hopeful you will show this letter to Saira Khan and she will rethink her position.
Historically, suicide was decriminalised in 1961 and is no longer a crime. If I was found guilty of murder I would have committed murder, if I was found guilty of burglary I would have committed burglary. Suicide is not a crime.
Saira Khan feedback would be welcomed.
29th July 2019 UPDATE: Following many letters and emails addressed to the producers of Loose Women, we finally received a written response.
Let’s hope that Loose Women may advise their guests and presenters on relegating this hurtful and outdated terminology to the history books.
See the letter below…
The Film Review, BBC Breakfast News – Sat 21 July 2018
I write concerning The Film Review, BBC Breakfast News aired on 21 July 2018 (today) when, during his review of The Receptionist, Mark Kermode used the expression “committed suicide.”
Taking one’s own life (or attempting it) has not been a crime since 1961. Burglars commit burglary and murderers commit murder, but those who take their own lives commit no crime. It is outdated terminology, which should be consigned to the history books, and it is extremely offensive to people who have suffered this traumatic and heart-breaking form of loss.
According to experts in this field, bereavement by suicide is by far the worse type of bereavement and considering the awful fact that suicide is the most common cause of death in men under the age of 50 in this country (and has been for a number of years) this expression causes additional pain to a huge number of people.
The government has drawn up its own White Paper to outlaw this expression. Coroners, magistrates and police officers are being instructed not to use it. BBC producers are also in agreement to ban its use.
I would like to ask that you pass this on to your presenters, producers, directors and those taking part in your programmes.
Anne Maxwell (Ms)
ITV Loose Women – Tuesday 17th Jul 2018
Ref: Loose Women
Today I was watching Loose Women at lunchtime on ITV, Channel 3 discussing the topic ‘How to Tackle Bullying’. At 1.08pm Linda Nolan talked movingly about a cousin who ‘Committed Suicide at only eleven years old.
I was bereaved by suicide in 2009 and have since experienced, first-hand the complexities of this trauma and the many malicious and ignorant judgements made against the person who has died by suicide . In 1961 suicide was decriminalised in this country and the term Committed Suicide is no longer correct,. Killers, Commit Murder, Burglars Commit Burglary and suicide is most definitely not a crime. Many people who understand the implications of still using this outdated language have compassionately adopted the term died by suicide. I urge all Loose Woman presenters to consider following the same path.
This year alone I have complained about Katie Price and Gloria Hunniford using this offensive and outdated term on Loose Women. For the record, although you claim to give everyone a response within five days, I am still waiting for Loose Woman to respond to my two earlier complaints submitted several weeks ago.
You claim, on your programme, to represent the ordinary person on the street and you often urge your viewers to vote for Loose Women on the TV Awards. But at the same time this programme has failed abysmally to show compassion by avoiding negative language when speaking about suicide.
Please forward my complaint to presenters Katie Price, Gloria Hungerford and most recently Linda Nolan. Also your Executive Producer Emma Gormley and producers Isabel Buxton, Elle Cotter, Katie Storry, Ashley Jenkin and Fiona McLaren. For your own information this letter will be printed on SoBS Suffolk website www.hopeaftersuicideloss.org.uk . A website designed by survivors for survivors.
To whom it may concern
Re: Loose Women
On the episode of ITV’s Loose Women on 17 July 2018 at lunchtime (around 13:10), Linda Nolan talked about her cousin who ‘committed suicide’ aged 11. It is really important that this devastating subject is brought to the public’s attention on television. However, the language being used in calling it ‘committed’ can be offensive to those trying to cope with their complicated grief after a suicide.
My sister took her own life in 2016 and, since then, I have come across many survivors of suicide – those of us bereaved by suicide; as what we are doing is merely living each day trying to survive the terrible shock and aftermath of our loved ones’ suicide with all our unanswered questions. Most, if not all, would agree that to hear the word ‘committed’ used is not appropriate.
Very sadly, there is much ignorance and stigma around suicide, and using the phrase ‘committed suicide’ only adds to this stigma and reinforces people’s thinking that it is a crime. It used to be thought of as a crime but has not since the 1960s and to use this wording can be extremely offensive to survivors and can add to their grief.
Please could you reassure me that this negative language will not be used on Loose Women again, and also I would be very grateful if you could bear this in mind to makers of other programmes as using this language can be very hurtful for people trying to come to terms with the death of their loved one and can even exacerbate the emotional, and very long, healing process.
Loose Women can be a powerful show and so to bring the right message to many viewers about such a sensitive, painful and pertinent subject is of paramount importance.
Thank you for your time in reading this.
On Tuesday 17th July during the Loose Women programme they discussed “How to tackle bullying”.
Linda Nolan, at 1.08pm, commented that her cousin tragically “committed suicide” aged 11years.
Although such an important topic with many ramifications, I was deeply concerned that the expression “committed suicide” was used.
To “commit” implies a crime. The “crime” of suicide was decriminalised by the government in 1961. Yet the stigma of suicide continues. Our son was badly bullied at school in 1994 resulting in a depressive illness from which he tragically died by suicide in 2012.
He felt ashamed of his suicidal thoughts as he was aware of the stigma attached to mental ill health and suicide.
Instead of keeping the thoughts of suicide hidden by shame, suicide rates could drop by allowing people to talk more of their suicidal thoughts and so seek help.
Having been a frequent follower of the programme Loose Women, with their desire to remain up to date and compassionate, I urgently request that they drop the outdated and insensitive expression “committed suicide “ to one with more compassion, in keeping with the programme’s high standards.
BBC Look East – Tuesday 21st Feb 2017
Good morningI 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.RegardsAnne Maxwell
Who Do You Think You Are Broadcast 1st December 2016
Dear Mrs Clifford
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.
BBC Complaints Team
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?
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 hopeaftersuicideloss.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.
Anne Maxwell (Ms)
ITV – Loose Women – Use of negative language on Friday 4th March 2016
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.
Viewer Services Manager – Daytime
Loose Women – Viewer Services – Daytime
Tel: 0344 88 14150 (option 4)
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
(name removed )
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
/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.
(Helper with Suffolk SoBS) /
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
A Maxwell (Ms)
Reply to Suzanne from Sir David Amess MP (Southend West) 23rd September 2015
Support from MP David Amess
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
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
Anne Maxwell (Ms)