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.
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 this||Instead of this|
|Died of suicide|
|Person living with suicidal thoughts or behavior|
For more information about language to use when speaking about suicide, check out additional resources below: