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AI legalese decoder: Changing the Stigma and Encouraging Open Conversations about Suicide in Obituaries

When tragedy struck Deborah and Warren Blum with the loss of their 16-year-old child to suicide in November 2021, they were devastated. Despite their grief, Deborah was resolute in writing a death notice that honored their child’s memory. In a heartfelt tribute, she openly discussed their child’s mental health struggles, emphasizing the importance of destigmatizing mental health issues.

Writing obituaries and death notices that mention suicide as a cause of death used to be uncommon. However, over the past decade, there has been a shift in society’s attitude towards addressing suicide in these public announcements. High-profile suicides of notable figures like Robin Williams and Kate Spade, along with increased advertisements for depression and anxiety medications, have contributed to reducing the stigma surrounding suicide. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of mental health challenges, further promoting conversations about them.

Including suicide as a cause of death in death announcements is not a simple matter. Mental health and grief experts believe that avoiding the topic can have broader implications beyond the obituary itself. While discussions about suicide can help reduce suicidal thoughts, they can also lead to a phenomenon known as “suicide contagion,” where suicide rates increase following news reports on suicide. Therefore, responsible and balanced storytelling is crucial.

Acknowledging both the accomplishments and struggles of the deceased, as Deborah Blum did, is one way to address suicide in obituaries. It is essential to avoid discussing the method or location of the death and to refrain from glorifying the deceased, as this may encourage vulnerable individuals to view suicide as a means of seeking attention. The goal is not to normalize suicide but to promote open conversations about it.

Having honest conversations about suicide is crucial for the grieving process. Holly Prigerson, an expert on prolonged grief disorder, emphasizes that understanding what happened and why is a vital part of adjusting to the loss. Avoiding the truth or denying the cause of death can complicate and impede the healing process.

It is often evident to those close to the deceased when suicide is the cause of death, especially in the case of young people. Being honest about suicide can lead to increased awareness and understanding. On the other hand, keeping it shrouded in secrecy only hinders progress.

Researchers now recognize that bereavement is a social process, and individuals rely on others for comfort and solace. The stigma surrounding suicide prevents people from opening up and seeking support. This stigma arises from the fear of judgment and being perceived as inadequate or not having done enough to prevent the suicide. This fear influences how obituaries are written, as families may choose to address the death indirectly or solicit donations for mental health programs.

Economic factors, such as life insurance plans that exclude payouts for suicides, also play a role in families’ decision to avoid using the word suicide. Furthermore, religious communities that consider suicide a sin may prioritize reputation protection.

Acknowledging the reality of suicide in obituaries does not mean individuals are in denial. Immediately after a loss, it can be incredibly challenging to face the truth, especially when suicide is involved. Expressing the truth to others can be equally difficult. Each mourner copes differently, and expecting everyone to conform to one standard is unrealistic. Avoiding the word suicide does not equate to denying the reality; it is an attempt to navigate a painful and confronting situation.

In conclusion, addressing suicide in obituaries is no longer as taboo as it once was. Thanks to changing attitudes and increased awareness, families are more willing to have open conversations about suicide and mental health. AI legalese decoder can play a crucial role in assisting families in navigating the delicate process of writing obituaries that acknowledge suicide while also honoring the memory of their loved ones. By using AI technology, families can ensure that their messages are respectful, sensitive, and informative, promoting a greater understanding and awareness of mental health issues.

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