Leonard Robert Payne

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 16 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4871

Re: Leonard Robert Payne

Dear obituaries editor

I was dismayed to note that the edited obituary (the on line version remains complete and unedited) for my Dad replaced my comment about my brother / his son's death, referring to it as 'committing suicide'.

The accepted ways to talk about suicide are: 'die by suicide' (which I used) , 'complete suicide', 'take one's life' or just straightforward and to the point 's/he killed him/herself'..

I would like to remind colleagues that it is inappropriate to report on or speak of such deaths in terms of 'committing suicide' as it is neither a crime nor a sin - which is where the expression came from.

Suicide is a major public health issue and is the highest cause of (mainly preventable) death of men aged 45 -54, a shameful statistic unchanged for decades (indeed it has increased since 2008). Death by physical illness is not reported in such perjorative terms, because it lacks the stigma of mental illness.

The Samaritans have written helpful information on their website about suicide and how to describe and report it, and mental health professionals and journalists (both specialist and in the general press) usually respect this. It would be helpful for all health professionals who deal with those affected by suicide, to refer to it, along with their general report on suicide in the UK and the dreadful statistics. (If this statistic were heart disease or cancer there would be outrage!)

Mental health professionals along with those bereaved by suicide, hope that the hurtful and perjorative term 'commit suicide' will soon join words such as mongol, lunatic, spastic, cretin, moron and cripple, and be consigned to the ignorance of the past. It is only by addressing incorrect usage, particularly by colleagues, that we can educate and promote a more compassionate approach to a frequently preventable tragedy.

Kind regards


Competing interests: No competing interests

18 October 2016
Alison Payne
Coventry & Rugby CCG