On Tuesday 13 December, the news broke that Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the famed DJ on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, had died by suicide, leaving behind a wife and three young children. The alarm was sounded by his wife, Allison Holker, after she became concerned that her husband had left home without his car, which was “not like him at all”.
A short time later, just before midday, paramedics were called to an incident at an LA hotel, where they found Stephen, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The sad news shocked fans across the world, with many citing his upbeat TikTok videos as never hinting at his mental state. If you are struggling behind-the-scenes too, there are resources out there to support you, including the Samaritans on 116 123 who are open 24/7, seven days a week. If you’re worried about a loved one, being able to talk about suicide and understanding how to support them if they do open to you is key.
It’s hard to know what to say when it comes to suicide; whether that’s comforting someone who’s grieving, trying to help someone who has attempted suicide, or just generally discussing it. Having lost a family member to suicide, in the years since, I’ve recognised how important language is. How the connotations of certain words can turn something well-intended into something insensitive.
There’s no guidebook for this, and every situation is personal, but it’s more vital than ever that we do discuss suicide. In 2018, Samaritans found that there were 6,507 deaths by suicide, and it remains the single biggest cause of death for men aged under 45. So it’s more important than ever before to learn how to talk about it.
What not to say about suicide…
There are a million ‘right’ things to say and do when someone has lost a loved one to suicide, or discussing it as a cause of death. A hand squeeze, a genuine ‘are you OK?’, a phone call to check-in. But, there are a few words that are a total no-go.
1. It’s not a ‘choice’
“Committed suicide” is a commonly used phrase, but it’s laden with blame and stigma. It roots back to when suicide was a crime, and ignores the fact that suicide is a consequence of illness. Just as you say someone ‘died from a heart attack’, we should be saying ‘death by suicide’ or ‘died from suicide’.
2. It is not ‘selfish’
An ex-boyfriend of mine once said that my family member who died from suicide was selfish. I dumped him. It’s a common trope; people will ask ‘But how could they leave their family behind?’ The thing is, with depression, people genuinely feel that everyone in their life would be better off without them and that they’re a burden. Of course, this isn’t true – but your brain can trick you. For many of those who die by suicide, it’s a selfless act – they think they’re bettering the lives of others by not being alive.