Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  Suicide: The Language of Suicide
Facebook Tweet Share

Main Content


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 family and communities grieve death by suicide, language needs to be caring, understanding, and non-judging.

Each year, more than 500 people die by suicide in Alberta. This is more than the number of people that die in motor vehicle collisions. Many Albertans have been affected by losing someone to suicide.

People who have lost someone to suicide say that the language used to describe suicide often makes a tragic event 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 suicide or completed suicide have often been used to describe these tragedies. The word commit is hard for people since it is also used for criminal offences (e.g., homicide, assault). Suicide isn't​ a criminal act. Instead, using phrases like death by suicide, died by suicide, or suicide describe what really happened and respects family and friends left behind.

The word successful to describe a suicide death doesn’t describe what really happened. Every suicide is a tragedy. It’s 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. For such change to occur, the involvement of many people to help lead and support this change is essential. The outcome is well worth it - helping to reduce the stigma and barriers to supporting survivors through the tragedy of a death by suicide.

Current as of: July 9, 2020

Author: Provincial Injury Prevention, Alberta Health Services