Language is powerful. The words we choose matter.

Suicide can be a difficult subject to talk about but it’s important that we don’t shy away from having these important conversations. Research shows that talking about suicide can actually help protect someone. Ultimately, talking about suicide can save lives. 

Suicide is an emotive, sensitive, and complex subject so the use of appropriate, non-stigmatising and compassionate language can be really important.

It’s important because certain ways of talking about mental illness can alienate members of the community, sensationalise the issue, and contribute to stigma and discrimination.

The language we use matters because it conveys both hidden and explicit messages. We respond to words without even realising it and words can reinforce stigma. That stigma can act as a barrier that stops someone from seeking the help and support they need.

As language evolves to reflect changes in attitudes towards suicide, certain terms which were previously used when talking about suicide are now understood to be insensitive. For example, ‘committed suicide’ is an expression that some people still use. But when you consider that the word ‘commit’ implies a crime or sin you realise it’s actually not a compassionate word to use and using this term is now discouraged. A less offensive alternative is ‘died by suicide’.

Similarly, phrases like ‘unsuccessful' suicide attempt can be unhelpful as it attributes feelings of achievement or failure. Instead, just the term ‘suicide attempt’ can be used.

By limiting our use of negatively associated language, and instead using language that accurately and sensitively describes an experience, such as, ‘died by suicide’, or ‘ended their life’, we can promote a healthier way in which to open conversations with those who may be at risk, or lowered resilience, and support those bereaved by suicide.  

We can’t always anticipate what language people will be most comfortable with, but we can ensure that our words are considered and sensitive. 

We can all challenge our understanding and use of language and be open to how language evolves.

We can all recognise the influence that language plays and pledge to use compassionate language.

Suicide awareness training

If you'd like support with how to approach a conversation with someone you're worried about, try our free, online suicide awareness training. It takes approximately 20minutes and could help you feel more prepared to have a potentially life saving conversation.