Depicted immorality influences the perceived applicability of the phrase “committed suicide”
Howell, A.J., Cowan-Nelson, E.R.H. & Cobuz, V.D.
Background: “Committed suicide” is often deemed less acceptable than alternative phrases, but such judgments vary widely across individuals. Aim: We tested whether the endorsement of statements containing “committed suicide” is greater when a suicide death is depicted as immoral. We also assessed the degree of immorality suggested by the free-standing phrases “committed suicide” and “died by suicide.” Method: Undergraduate participants (N = 154) read scenarios of a suicide depicted as immoral and one depicted more neutrally and judged the applicability of statements employing either “committed suicide” or “died by suicide” to each scenario. Participants next chose between the free-standing phrases “committed suicide” or “died by suicide” in terms of which connoted immorality and provided written justifications for their choices. Results: Participants judged “committed suicide” statements to be most applicable to the immoral-suicide scenario. A large majority of participants chose “committed suicide” over “died by suicide” as connoting immorality and participants’ justifications for this choice revealed several meaningful themes. Limitations: Our manipulation of immorality employed religious overtones and our participants were undergraduate students. Conclusions: Findings contribute to the empirical basis for concerns regarding the phrase “committed suicide,” with implications for stigma reduction and help-seeking.