When talking about suicide deaths and suicidal thoughts or behavior, the words we use matter.2 Our language and depictions may inadvertently reinforce stigma and negative stereotypes, be offensive to people who have been affected by suicide, or lead to an increase in suicidal behavior (also known as suicide contagion).3 There are many opportunities in our conversations and communications to practice using language that avoids these pitfalls and instead helps create a better foundation for preventing suicide.

 

Best Practice Language for Suicide Prevention

Language to Avoid for Suicide Prevention

Died by suicide

Took his/her/their own life

Killed him/her/them self

Suicide death

Committed suicide
(Implies a crime or wrongdoing)

Chose to kill him/her/them self
(Implies a rational choice when it might have been crisis-driven)

Successful or completed suicide
(Implies the death was a positive outcome or an achievement)

Suicided
(Sounds dehumanizing, implies judgment)

Suicide attempt

Failed or unsuccessful suicide attempt
(Implies failure or lack of success when surviving a suicide attempt)

Disclosed suicidal thoughts

Threatened suicide
(Implies violence rather than help-seeking)

Describe behavior in neutral terms
(What does the behavior look like?)

Manipulative or attention-seeking behavior

Suicidal gesture
(Implies judgment about or blame for the behavior)

Has bipolar disorder
(Or other mental health condition)

Is bipolar
(Implies the person is defined by their diagnosis)

Working with or supporting a
suicidal patient

Dealing with a suicidal patient
(Implies the person is a burden)

Use straightforward terms to describe trends, e.g., “increasing” or “rising”

Strong terms with shock value, such as “skyrocketing” or “epidemic”
(Can decrease public will to address an issue)

Limit descriptions of suicide events and provide suicide prevention resources in communications
(Does not apply to official death investigations)

Quoting from a suicide note
(Can contribute to contagion)

Detailed descriptions of the location or method of death, memorials or funerals, or the grief of family and friends
(Can contribute to contagion)

 

2. Language Matters, NowMattersNow.org.

3. Suicide Reporting Recommendations, American Association of Suicidology.