Watch Your Language

Written by: Shae Chisman, MFT-I

If you didn’t know already, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month! Its time to think about ways we can prevent suicide and how we can fight the stigma surrounding depression and suicide. We can create the cultural change needed to improve conversations about mental health and suicide prevention – simply by changing the language we use in discussing these matters. Words are powerful.

Committed Suicide vs. Completed Suicide vs. Died by Suicide

When we use the language “committed”, we are typically describing immoral behavior (i.e. Someone commits murder, rape, burglary, & other crimes).

While we definitely do not condone suicide – the person who dies by suicide is not committing a crime. Rather, this act is almost always a result of mental illness, extreme stress, and/or trauma.

Discussing suicide in this way perpetuates the stigma that prevents so many from seeking help. Let’s agree that these individuals deserve compassion – rather than condemnation.

Some have suggested the use of “completed suicide” instead of “committed suicide” in efforts to be more politically correct. Unfortunately, using the word “completed” does not accurately describe the act either. When we have completed something, this indicates success – it feels like an accomplishment. Alternatively, if someone’s suicide is described as “incomplete” – it indicates a failure.

We do not want to assign connotations such as good or bad to suicide – and definitely not when “completing suicide” is mildly suggested as good through the language and vice versa.

How do we talk about suicide?

To avoid these judgements – “died by suicide” can be used. It may come across as dry and insensitive. The alternative is that we are using language that can propagate stigma and discourage people who might otherwise be asking for help.

With so many lives at stake – the least we can do is practice using different vernacular when discussing suicide. We urge you to try.

Also, if you know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are people who can help. Hope is here.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 74147

Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225

Georgia HOPE offers in-home and online therapy for a multitude of presenting problems including: