Choose your words: Language, Stereotypes and Suicide

Sep 10, 2021

In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, we wanted to share some reflections on why language matters so much in supporting the cause of suicide prevention.

First of all, let’s talk about why we need to use different language… Every 45 seconds someone takes their life, that’s an estimated 700,000 people around the world each year. For each suicide that results in death, there are 25 attempts. All of these numbers represent real people. Along with their loved ones, they are impacted by immense stigma, which can leave those affected feeling abandoned or ashamed. Part of that stigma comes from the language used. The most common term you will probably hear is ‘committed suicide’. However, this holds historical connections to ‘sin’ or ‘crime’. In the present day, we still use the term ‘committed’ in reference to crimes, an example of the residue that needs to be removed from suicide so that we can move forward.

What language can we use instead? A 2019 study, which explored the views of people affected by suicide found that the following were the most acceptable terms:

“Attempted Suicide”

“Took their own life”

“Died by suicide”

“Ended their life”

Source: https://www.nationalelfservice.net/mental-health/suicide/language-matters-how-should-we-talk-about-suicide/

Suicide & Stereotypes As an interfaith community, we are committed to the abolishment of stereotypes that surround suicide and do not stand behind the outdated view that the act is a sin. In order to support this, we encourage our ministers to practice self-reflection, openness, and compassion in all elements of the work that they do. We all have mental health and we believe that the best way to support mental wellness is through unconditional positive regard for the people around us.  For more information on challenging stereotypes, please visit https://samaritansnyc.org/myths-about-suicide.

What else can we do? We all have a role to play in supporting suicide prevention. In addition to using better language, and encouraging the use of this in media, justice systems, academic research, and beyond, here are a few important ideas:

Reach out. Taking the time to reach out to someone in your community, a friend, a family member or even a stranger, can change a person’s life. By showing you care, you can give someone hope. Stay present to those who might not be coping and give them your time. It’s okay not to have all the answers, but don’t be afraid to speak to someone who is struggling.

Try not to make assumptions. Along with the language you use, it’s important to reflect on your own feelings towards and beliefs about suicide, challenging any judgments that are based around assumptions, or which may be unhelpful.

Learn more. There are many resources available online to better understand what you can do to help. The Samaritans, Mind, and Rethink are just a few organisations that have a rich array of online resources.

If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, 24/7 help is available from the Samaritans. Call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. Please note that email response can take up to 24 hours so if you have an urgent situation, we encourage you to call.

Sources and further reading:


~ Written by OneSpirit Staff

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