Monday 19 March 2018

Eilis O'Hanlon: Not naming the terrible realities of life won't keep us any safer

We say euphemisms are a kindness to others, but it's really ourselves we're trying to protect.

Eilis O'Hanlon

According to reports, Paul O'Brien was "found dead". He "died tragically". Gardai are "not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident". There were "no suspicious circumstances". Reading between the lines, it seemed obvious that what we were dealing with here was a case of suicide.

If that is so, why not just say it? There may be sound reasons for not being more explicit. Causes of death are decided by coroners, not journalists. His family may also have wished for privacy. They have, after all, suffered enough. O'Brien's 15-year-old daughter Lynsey died in 2006 after falling from a cruise ship on a family holiday after being served 11 alcoholic drinks in less than an hour. Her father was heartbroken, campaigned tirelessly for better cruise ship safety, and published a book. Why not leave them alone at such an awful time to grieve?

In this instance, there can surely be no argument with that. The underlying problem is the coyness with which we increasingly talk about suicide in general. Endeavouring to be as sensitive as possible, we have turned suicide, alone amongst other violent and unexpected ways of death, into something that is whispered about, rather than discussed openly. It almost seems to resurrect the ancient idea that there's something shameful about suicide, which only adds to the pain of survivors or grieving families rather than ameliorating it.

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