close up of hands holding another person's hands in comfort

From Sharp Health News, a publication of Sharp HealthCare

Suicide remains a difficult topic to discuss. Stigma, misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about mental illness and suicide can lead many people to feel hesitant or frightened to talk about it.

Adjusting the words we use to discuss suicide is an important step in lessening the harmful stigma — and ultimately saving lives. Experts recommend replacing a few common phrases associated with suicide with words that are more mindful and respectful:

  • Instead of saying someone “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide,” “death by suicide” or “lost a life to suicide.” The word “commit” suggests that someone is carrying out a crime or a heinous act, which perpetuates the stereotype that people who attempt suicide are selfish. Oftentimes, people who have suicidal thoughts also have depression, which is a mental health condition. Saying “died by suicide” — a neutral description — removes shame and blame.
  • The terms “died by suicide” or “survived, or lived, through a suicide attempt” are preferred to the more common phrase, “successful, or unsuccessful, suicide.” Describing a suicide as either successful or unsuccessful implies that suicide is a type of positive achievement when it is a tragic occurrence. Oftentimes, the media glamorizes suicide, which can lead to some people attempting to imitate it. The media can also reinforce the belief that suicide cannot be prevented, which is not true. There are various ways to prevent suicide, including early detection and management of symptoms.
  • Instead of saying someone is “suicidal,” say someone “has suicidal thoughts” or “is experiencing suicidal thoughts.” When you describe someone as suicidal, it can imply that all of their identity is about suicide. Using person-first language denotes that the person’s identity has other elements than just their suicidal thoughts; their life experience is filled with other qualities and occurrences.

Offering a moment of comfort, hope or peace — no matter how small — to someone who experiences suicidal thoughts can create positive ripple effects. When we see that someone is not showing up, pulling away, acting out or simply “not themselves,” acknowledge the change, offer support and always lead with compassion.

If you or a loved one is in crisis, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, now the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which is available 24 hours a day by calling, texting or chatting 988.

The VRC recognizes that mental health conditions impact many individuals in our community. The VRC has compiled a list of resources here.