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The language of suicide

​​​​​​​What’s in a word?

It’s important for people to know about the language used with suicide and suicide prevention to help reduce stigma. To help families and communities grieve death by suicide, language needs to be caring, understanding, and non-judging.

Many Albertans have been affected by suicide. People who have lost someone to suicide say that the language used to describe suicide often makes it worse for those grieving and coping. Stigma makes it harder for people to reach out for help or for others to help them.

Words like "committed" or "completed" have often been used to describe suicide. The word commit is also used for criminal offences, like homicide or assault. Suicide isn't​ a criminal act. Phrases like death by suicide, died by suicide, or suicide describe what really happened and respect family and friends left behind.

Using the word "successful" to describe a suicide death doesn’t describe what really happened. Every suicide is a tragedy. It’s  also misleading to call a suicide attempt that doesn’t end in death a "failure". Suicide, death by suicide, and died by suicide describe what really happened.

Changing the language used to describe suicide isn’t easy but the outcome is well worth it. The involvement of many people to help lead and support this change is essential. It helps to reduce the stigma and barriers to supporting survivors through the tragedy of a death by suicide.

Current as of: July 18, 2023

Author: Provincial Injury Prevention, Alberta Health Services