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A Piece of My Mind
December 25, 2018

The Language of Suicide

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
JAMA. 2018;320(24):2537-2538. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19199

By the time my father died, it wasn’t a surprise. It was scary and sad, but it was also a terrible sort of relief. It was an unglamorous death in the Canal Street apartment he had chosen for its expansive, unfinished rooftop on which he tended his clivia and miniature lemon trees. Empty bottles of antidepressants and antihypertensives stood next to his computer, on which the browser history revealed a final Google search that read: “how to commit suicide with Paxil.”

No one talked much about how he had died. As is often the case with suicide, it was mostly an open secret, though some suggested that perhaps I was wrong, that it was not intentional after all. As a society we’ve come a long way with respect to suicide, mental illness, and addiction, but we have a long way yet to go. When the topic of his death comes up, I often hesitate, pulled between the desire to share openly that my life, like so many others, has been impacted by suicide and that the topic remains heavily stigmatized, emotionally burdensome, and susceptible to all manner of unsolicited—and frequently erroneous—opinions and narratives.

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