Psychiatrist to the press: it's 'homicide bomber' - not 'suicide bomber'

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A suicide prevention expert has called for the term “homicide bomber” to replace the widely used “suicide bomber”, claiming that those who kill themselves while murdering others have few similarities to actual suicide victims.

So says Dr. Robert Goldney, a psychiatry professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who is, incidentally, an internationally regarded suicide expert and author.

“Past studies have generally shown that there is little in common between so-called ‘suicide bombers’ and those who die by suicide, using ‘suicide’ in its clinically accepted sense,” he says. “From the point of view of experienced clinical psychiatrists, suicide bombers have a range of characteristics that are completely different to those of the majority of suicide victims.”

Typical feelings of hopelessness, unbearable psychic pain combined with self-absorption and few options are common among those who are suicidal. Not so among those who commit terrorist acts, Dr. Goldney says, noting “Mental disorders also do not appear to be a prominent feature in so-called ‘suicide bombers’.”

There are some benefits to dropping the term.

“It has long been recognized that media reporting on suicide promotes further suicide - there is a tendency for it to be normalized as an understandable and reasonable option. The repeated use of the term ‘suicide bomber’ runs the risk of normalizing such behavior,” he says.

Dr. Goldney adds that the term “homicide bomber” likely originated with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in 2002. “However, since then it has all but been ignored,” he says.

“It’s time to address this again. Although the word ‘homicide’ is not entirely accurate because of the political and military context in which these deaths occur, it is more appropriate than the continued use of the word ‘suicide’,” the professor observes.

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