Language Matters When Talking About Suicide

In recent years, those working in the field of suicide prevention have transitioned to using trauma-informed, non-stigmatizing language when talking about suicide. This helps create a safe, compassionate space to discuss suicide and encourage those experiencing thoughts of suicide to seek help.

Trauma-Informed Language

The most significant change relates to how to refer to suicide as a cause of death. In the past, terms such as “committed suicide” or “completed suicide” have been widely used. However, “commit/committed” may imply that an act is criminal. As a society, we often refer to crimes as having been “committed,” which can lead to the criminalization of people who have died by suicide. The use of “completed” can imply that an act has been accomplished or been successful, often sending the message that suicide is a task to be accomplished. This does not create language of safety.

The current language, when discussing a death by suicide, is that that person has “died by suicide”. This language implies the facts around the cause of death and the language is neutral – it does not assume or insinuate any other connotations.

Another change is in the use of a “successful or unsuccessful” suicide or suicide attempt. This language, again, assumes that suicide is something to be accomplished (as either successful or not). It adds a layer of “good” or “bad” to the person and situation. Instead of this, use only “suicide attempt.” Again, focus on providing factual and direct language that is free of judgement of the person or the situation.

The Mental Health Center of Denver and the Zero Suicide Implementation team strongly encourage all people to adopt this language when talking about suicide. We want to continue creating an environment where thoughts and feelings around suicide are safe to talk about.

How to Talk About Suicide

Say thisInstead of this
Died of suicideCommitted suicide
Suicide deathSuccessful attempt
Suicide attemptUnsuccessful attempt
Person living with suicidal thoughts or behaviorSuicide ideator or attempter
SuicideCompleted suicide

For more information about language to use when speaking about suicide, check out additional resources below:

SpeakingofSuicide.com

irmi.com

psychology.org