Talking About Suicide: Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)

//Talking About Suicide: Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)

Talking About Suicide: Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)

By Jennifer Sikora (Part 2 of 2):

After a Suicide, the Wrong Words Can Be Brutal

Fourteen years ago at my sister’s funeral, I may have been a bit numb, but not so much that I didn’t hear and keep a mental tally of all the hurtful things that were said to me and my family. I realized that most of that was not due to ill intent, but from lack of knowledge or understanding about the right and wrong things to say.

Working with the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) over the past six years, I have learned that those of us who are survivors of loss have a duty to carry the message about our loss in a way that does not add to stigma.

Remember the study I mentioned  in part one of my blog post? One of the more discouraging findings was that 39 percent of those adults surveyed believe that suicide is a selfish act, and 20 percent believe it is an act of cowardice. Clearly, we have a lot more work to do when it comes to this side of things.

So, let me give you a helpful guide about wording do’s and don’ts in the context of suicide loss:

Never Say / Avoid:

Say Instead:


“Committed Suicide”

“Died from suicide.”

Like the phrases “committed murder” or “committed adultery,” this  implies the death was a criminal or sinful act that was willfully and  carelessly chosen by that person. This is a difficult wording choice for us to break, as it’s embedded in the way we talk about suicide. However, we’ve changed negative phrases and word choices in the past about other  things. It’s time to change this one.

“Successful Attempt” / “Completed Suicide” / “Unsuccessful or Failed Attempt”

“Died from suicide” / “Attempted suicide”

Attaching a “success” or completion-related term positions suicide as  achievement-oriented.

“Chose Suicide”

“Died from suicide”

Saying that it was a choice makes it sound like suicide was seen as a viable coping option vs. something done out of extreme pain and desperation.

“How did you not know?” / “Did you know they were going to do this?”

“I’m sure this is a shock to you, I am so sorry for your loss.”

Asking or confronting those in grief about whether they knew someone  was at risk is incredibly guilt-inducing. Please avoid such questions or  suggestions.

NEVER, ever ask, talk about, or report on the method of death or  method tried.

Just say that they died from suicide, ended their life, or made an  attempt.

Methods don’t matter and only lead to the ongoing “sensationalism” of  and gossip around suicide. Let’s face it: No method is good, so none are  worth talking about.

Also, talk or reporting about methods can be very triggering to those  in a vulnerable mental health state themselves.

Don’t jump in immediately to talking about your loss publicly (i.e. events, to the news media).

WAIT for at least two years before sharing your story in a public manner.

A suicide loss can be highly traumatizing, and in the first several
years, emotions can be volatile and thoughts haven’t been sorted out. AFSP recommends you wait before being a spokesperson about your loss. AFSP  provides a guideline  to those who talk about their suicide loss at events and in other public settings.

Also, saying a person who died from suicide was cowardly or selfish or attention-seeking doesn’t take into consideration that the vast majority of suicides occur because the person was in extreme psychological pain and was so distraught that they were not thinking clearly to see other options.

Words indeed matter, and I hope mine here have been informative and helpful. There are things we can all do, in different areas of our lives, to contribute to positive, productive, and healing words and discussion around the topic of suicide.

Jennifer Sikora is the Chairperson of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Pittsburgh Chapter.

By | 2015-09-30T14:50:12+00:00 September 30th, 2015|NAMI Blog|Comments Off on Talking About Suicide: Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)

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