A Bury St Edmunds woman is campaigning to change the ‘outdated terminology’ around suicide to protect vulnerable survivors and honour the names of victims.
Suzy Clifford is petitioning the Government to eradicate the use of the phrase ‘committed suicide’ which originates from the criminal justice system and replace it with the term ‘died by suicide’.
The mother-of-three, whose husband Len took his own life in 2009, runs the Suffolk branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SoBS). Through the campaign, she hopes to challenge negativity and reduce the risk of survivors taking their own lives.
Mrs Clifford, 58, said: “My own personal experience was that I was just five weeks into my own grief when someone approached me and said: ‘I’ve heard your husband committed suicide. He is a coward and should be ashamed of himself.’
“I just could not believe this was acceptable in the 21st century. If that had been a particularly dark day for me, it could have been a trigger when I was at high risk of suicide myself.
“The Government did half a job in 1961 when they decriminalised suicide, but didn’t change the language. I always explain it by saying that you commit murder or a burglary – you don’t commit a heart attack.”
The petition has so far attracted about 600 signatures since it launched last month but needs 10,000 to merit a Government response and 100,000 to be considered for a Parliamentary debate.
They are promoting the campaign nationally on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (@ SuffolkSoBS).
Mrs Clifford said: “The things we could achieve if the petition is a success would be amazing.Changing this terminology is about honouring the person who has passed and protecting their good name and the good names of the survivors. It will also play a key role in breaking the circle of stigma and shame for the next generation.”
It is part of her ongoing effort to challenge the stigma surrounding suicide following her own loss. Three years before he died her husband, who was a successful businessman, suffered a head injury in a car accident.
“After that his brain just didn’t work the same way – he developed a lot of psychologoical issues. I had never seen anyone so paralysed. He was unable to leave the house and really did struggle. A survivor in one of our groups always says that it isn’t our loved ones wanting to die, they just didn’t know how to live,” she said.
The campaign has gained the support of Gary Page, chairman of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill.
SoBs offers support via telephone, email or face-to-face as well as regular group meetings to help people develop coping strategies, relieve isolation and bring hope. Visit http://suffolk-sobs.org.uk
The petition can be signed at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106754