Many who have lost a loved one to suicide understand the pain their loved one was suffering. Suicide was a means for them to end what they experienced as the unbearable pain they felt due to mental illness, intolerable stress, or trauma, not as a means to leave us. Using the term ‘commit suicide’ is both outdated and often harmful.
The word ‘commit’ comes from a time when suicide was treated as a crime. To portray suicide as a crime or sin stigmatizes those who experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. This stigma, in turn, can deter people from seeking help from friends, family, and professionals.
The person who dies by suicide is not committing a crime or sin. Rather, the act of suicide almost always is the product of mental illness, intolerable stress, or trauma.
The more we can use language that accurately and sensitively describes suicide, the more we encourage a healthy and respectful way to talk about and prevent suicide.
If changing our language can help suicidal people to feel safer asking for help, then changing language can save lives.
How to talk about suicide
Avoid terminology that adds to the stigma of suicide.
Replace “Committed Suicide” with more supportive terminology.
Supportive terms include:
- Died by suicide
- Ended his/her life
- Took his/her life
- Attempt to end his/her life
Other terms to understand:
GRIEF JOURNEY: The process people go through after a death.
PEER-LED SUPPORT MEETINGS: Survivor support meetings led by people who have been affected by a suicide death.
POSTVENTION: Services provided after the death to those affected by a suicide death.
SUICIDE BEREAVEMENT SUPPORT GROUP (SBSG): The generic term for all organizations providing services to those bereaved by a suicide death.
SUICIDAL IDEATION: Thinking about or having ideas about suicide.
SUICIDE: Suicide is an act, not a person. We believe that referring to a person as “a suicide” is labeling and can promote stigma.The act of suicide was a moment in time. How someone died is not who or what that person was.
SUICIDE PREVENTION: A continuum of services and support, related to suicide, from prevention to early intervention and postvention.
SURVIVOR: Anyone who has been affected by a suicide death.