In the February 9, 2015 edition, there’s a great article entitled, “R U There?” by Alice Gregory. The article explores the founding and function of the Crisis Text Line, a non-profit established in 2013 by Nancy Lublin and Stephanie Shih. Through their work with DoSomething.org, the two discovered in 2011 that there was a great need for crisis help by texting especially for teenagers.
Reading this article was eye-opening for me as I felt my age declaring itself not so subtly. I’m a dinosaur when it comes to phones: I don’t have a smartphone (though that will be changing soon), and I only text a handful of people. For the most part, I’m of the e-mail generation. That’s my preferred method of communication if I’m not talking to someone in person. Yet I immediately realized the truth in what the article related: Today’s teens communicate through texting. There’s no doubt that if you have a teen and you give them a phone, they need an unlimited texting plan lest you end up with an inordinate mobile bill. While I may not like the way our society constantly has their eyes aimed downward at their phones, it is the reality in our world at this point, especially among younger generations.
Clearly the Crisis Text Line is an amazing organization in what it does to help individuals who need emotional support. I have no doubt other organizations will eventually see the Crisis Text Line as a role model for further advances in helping clients. It truly is a victory for the vastly undersupported and underfinanced mental health services in the U.S.
However, there was a moment in the article when all I could do was cringe. Gregory writes, “[The Save-A-Life League] also raised summer-camp tuition for the children of suicides.” Here, in an article in a liberal intellectual publication that is extolling the wonders of emotional support for those in crisis, was an unconscionable error that continues to devalue the lives of those who live and die with mental illness. While it is technically accurate to call someone who has committed suicide a “suicide,” the ethics and political correctness in doing so are questionable.
When people commit suicide, it’s their final act. It’s a major choice, one that irreparably impacts their lives and the lives of those around them. However, that action does not negate the rest of their lives. They were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, lovers, leaders, students, teachers.… They did so much more than just their final act of committing suicide. Is it right that they should be identified as their final act?
People first language is important. It helps remind us that we are more than the things that might restrict us in this world. When people commit suicide, they do not become their action. While most would not condone that action, suicide is an action taken in a time of great pain and desperation. It’s not the only way people should be remembered. The New Yorker could have so easily edited that sentence to read, “[The Save-A-Life League] also raised summer-camp tuition for the children of those who committed suicide.” The sentence doesn’t become bulky; in my reading, it actually becomes clearer in many ways. Moreover, the revised sentence refrains from demeaning individuals who were dealing with mental health issues.
We have a long way to go in our nation to help those who deal with mental illness. It’s still a taboo topic. Therapy is still not accepted by many. Few mainstream alternatives besides drugs and exercise are promoted to help those fighting even the most minor mental health issues. I look forward to a day when our culture has a better understanding of mental health struggles and is able to offer more holistic treatments that are affordable and readily available.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC