Why can't we use the S word?

Not sex.


When the statistics are released, as they were 10 days ago, we have no problem with saying or writing the word then, and neither we should - because this country's suicide statistics are just shocking.


We have a serious, serious issue and we cannot hide behind fancy words.

Read more: TVNZ news presenter Greg Boyed, who was battling depression, dies in Switzerland
Deborah Hill Cone: The things unsaid about the death of Greg Boyed

Yet, when someone high profile dies by their own hand we revert to code.

Died suddenly.

Died unexpectedly.

Had been suffering from depression.

Why couldn't the reportage be straight to the point?

It's an issue we in the journalistic community have been grappling with forever.


For a time, some media outlets refused to even report such a death, not even in the code which developed around such a passing.

There was, according to some in management, no need to report an incident which might inspire copycat behaviour.

Thankfully now that attitude has changed.

This year there have been way too many people of note who have died by suicide.

Kate Spade, who designed handbags. Anthony Bourdain, a great chef, author and raconteur.

Greg Boyed, who not just anchored the news but could turn his hand to myriad broadcasting skills with aplomb.

Did you note my phrasing in the paragraph before last?

I used the word suicide. I didn't precede it with the verb "committed."

That word wreaks of something criminal.

As in, he committed murder or a burglary or a fraud. Need I say more?

He committed suicide? Nah. That's an awful, comparative use of a verb which has deep and sinister connotations.

New Zealand, like many countries in the western world, has a suicide percentage way, way higher than a generation ago.

We are grappling about how to combat this scourge.

But surely it would help if we addressed the issue face on. The cause of death should be reported without euphemism.

Note that I wrote "the cause." Not the method. That's dangerous territory which could lead to copycat acts.

In all walks of life, honesty and truth is the best disinfectant.

Yet often when we read a news story, we have to decipher code.

A business leader leaving a job to "spend more time with his family" has been fired.

A sportsman or woman who claims a "toxic environment" often can't cope with the high standards demanded.

Once, somebody who had "died suddenly" had suffered a heart attack or stroke.

Not anymore, it seems.

The expression sanitises the truth.

I have little idea about how to reduce the scourge of suicide. Apart from really basic stuff that is. Like talking about one's issues with those closest to you or with a professional counsellor.

But as someone who's spent a bit of time writing and talking about the important, and not so important, issues in life, there is one thing I know which will never change.

Truth always wins. If you report the facts you can never go wrong.

That's why "died suddenly" is such a nonsense expression for a death by one's own hand.
It might have been anything but sudden.

Let's say what it really was.

Death by suicide.

Say it. Keep it honest.

You never know, expressing its raw starkness might prevent someone else doing the same thing.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 ,free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat.
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666.