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How to Talk About Suicide the Right Way

I deal with suicide a lot in my writings. I’ve talked about people who have just attempted suicide, those left behind by suicide and the family and friends of those who have attempted suicide, among many other subjects. That’s because suicide is a subject that I think is very important. It’s critical to break down the walls of silence that keep people who have contemplated or attempted suicide at arm’s length from everyone else. Thinking about suicide or attempting suicide doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you; it just means that you have sought a way out of an extraordinary amount of pain that wasn’t the best way.

But the way in which suicide is written about matters because of a phenomenon known as suicide contagion. This is the act of copycat suicides and believe it or not, it is a real problem. The way a suicide is reported in the media actually affects the number of people who attempt suicide.

So if you plan on talking about suicide – and I encourage you to do so – think about these guidelines on how to do it.

What Not to Say About Suicide

The number one thing that people involved in suicide prevention seem to object to is the term “committed suicide.” While I know this is a common term and we have all used it (myself included), suicide prevention organizations believe it puts suicide into a positive light in that suicide was an act that was accomplished – a goal of some sort. Or, perhaps, puts it in the light of a crime such as, Joe committed robbery. Of course, suicide is neither a goal to be accomplished nor a crime. Instead of saying “committed suicide” or “successful suicide” say, “died by suicide.”

Learn what to say about suicide and what not to say about suicideOther things not to say about suicide:

  • Do not go into too much detail about the suicide attempt itself
  • Do not post detailed pictures of a suicide attempt or a suicide attempt location
  • Do not glorify or romanticize suicide
  • Do not portray suicides as heroic
  • Do not say that suicide is an end to pain (people need to be alive to feel relief from pain)
  • Do not use the term “failed suicide,” instead say “suicide attempt”
  • Do not use the term “epidemic” in suicide stories, instead say that rates are “rising” or “falling”

What to Say About Suicide

I would say there are several critical things to tell people about suicide but the number one thing is to tell them how to get help. It’s critical to say that feeling suicidal requires help and that the person must reach out. If you don’t know what numbers to use, go to Suicide.org for more information (or Google suicide hotline and your country).

Also say:

  • Suicide is often related to untreated depression – but depression is treatable and so are suicidal feelings
  • There is hope – suicidal feelings will pass
  • People feeling suicidal are not alone – people are there to help

What Do I Think About These Guidelines?

Now, the truth is, I think some of these things are good ideas and I think some of them are just guesses at what might help people at risk of suicide. I’m certain I’ve committed most of the sins in this article at one time or another.

Nevertheless, these guidelines put the emphasis on thinking about respectful and careful suicide reporting and preventing future suicides, and that is something we all need to consider.

See Suicide.org’s full list of recommendations on suicide reporting.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

16 thoughts on “How to Talk About Suicide the Right Way”

  1. Plz help. Im so lost and worried. This is my 22yr old daughter’s 2nd attempt in trying to commit suicide. 🙁 what do i do i feel like im up against the wall and i cant breathe…

  2. Robin I would like to say that from my experience as being a survivor of suicide loss as well as having attempted many times myself and being a mental health caregiver as hard as it may be sometimes we have to let go and I don’t mean that as a bad thing or negative thing. Reality is we all make our own choices and if we don’t fully care for ourselves and care for ourselves first then we aren’t going to be helpful to anyone not even those we love and care about. However the main thing I have learned is to sit down shut up and just listen. Remember while you are listening realize you don’t want to be thinking of solutions for the person. You are listening for any signs of hope which may simply be how much they love their animal companion etc. Then go from their and if you get stuck their is no shame in asking a friend or professional for help.

  3. I know with the my suicide attempts (and yes that is plural), I would hate when someone would say I failed. I would just one more thing I couldn’t do. I couldn’t even die. Or when they would say, you wouldn’t have failed if you really wanted to die. (yes, I have had people actually say that to me) I like the term ‘suicide attempt’, I don’t feel ashamed of something I could make happen. And by the way, I’m really glad I lived to tell about it. So can you!

  4. As a suicidal person who doesn’t have a plan, I just just don’t know what to do or help my 18-year-old niece who has made 3 attempts in the past 3 months! She hoards her meds and then takes them all at once. Her older sister, who made several attempts when she was about that age, was managing her sister’s meds only to have D do the hoarding twice in the past month. She is hysterical. My sister is finally stepping in and taking over. My sister made several attempts plus had severe anorexia. Four of us have been hospitalized now. How do suicidal people help other suicidal people when we’re pretty damaged ourselves?

  5. I am feeling very depressed and contemplated with suicide. I have tried to get help an my doctor has increased my medication.

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