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How to Talk About Suicide

By September 15, 2020January 29th, 2021No Comments

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – and that brings up a key question: How should we talk about suicide?

Suicide is a complicated topic, and while there has been an increase in attention and support for mental health services in our country, the stigma around suicide still exists. So what can we do to help combat this stigma?

Raise your voice!

The first step towards reducing the stigma around suicide is to talk about suicide. Paying attention to the language we use and keeping the lines of communication open with those who are at risk will save lives.

Otherwise we will lose more lives to the silence. 

Here are some helpful hints when talking about suicide with others.

  • Never describe suicide as:
    • Selfish
    • Stupid
    • Cowardly or weak
    • A choice or “the easy way out”
    • A sin (or that the person is going to hell)

Actually- just leave the shaming language out of it all together!

  • Avoid using words like:
    • “Committed suicide”
    • “Successful/Unsuccessful attempt”
    • “Failed attempt”
    • “Suicide gesture”

This implies that suicide has a positive goal, rather than focusing on the pain that the individual is feeling.

  • Instead, a better way to describe might be…
    • “Died by suicide”
    • “Took his/her/their own life”
  • Steer clear from describing risk factors for suicide as
    • Unexplainable
    • Without warning
    • Happened because of one single event

Risk factors may be very difficult to predict, but not impossible.  Instead, educate yourself and others on the risk factors for suicide or the verbal and behavioral cues for suicide.

  • Avoid sharing specific details about the suicide (if you know those details) including:
    • The method used
    • Images of the means
    • Graphic depictions of the event
    • Details about the location
    • Sharing notes left behind

*This can be very traumatizing and is not information that is helpful to pass around.

  • Avoid referring to suicide as
    • “A growing problem”
    • “Epidemic”
    • “Skyrocketing”

When media sensationalizes or glamorizes suicide it may put those already at risk, at an even greater risk. Instead, refer to suicide as a public health issue and make sure you have accurate and reliable statistics.

  • Avoid promising that it’s going to get better. Instead:
    • Convey that their suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced and eliminated
    • Share a hopeful, supportive message with individuals in crisis

You may not be able to take away their pain, but offering them hope can keep them alive.

  • DO: Provide Lifeline information. If you or someone you know is in crisis:
    • Do not leave that person alone
    • Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
    • Or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

Seek help — you do NOT have to go about this alone!

  • Things that you CAN say to a person who may be going through a suicide crisis
    • “Are you OK?”
    • “Do you need anything?”
    • “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
    • “How can I support you?”
    • “I want you to be here.”
    • “Will you let me get you help?”
    • “Will you let me go with you to get some help?”

Helpful Definitions: (from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention at

  • Suicide: A death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior.
  • Suicide Attempt: A nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior.
  • Suicide Attempt Survivor: An individual who survived an attempted suicide.
  • Suicide Ideation: Thinking about, considering or planning suicide.
  • Suicide Loss Survivor (also referred to as Survivor of Loss): A family member, friend or loved one of an individual that died by suicide.

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We at TeenCentral care, and we want you to be here. We hope we’ve given you lots to think about during SUICIDE PREVENTION MONTH.

Talk to a friend. Speak up. Raise your voice. No one is completely alone.