Avoiding Stigma When Talking About Suicide


Brooke Luker

Avoiding Stigma When 

Talking About Suicide

     Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the importance of language when talking about mental health. When we speak about suicide improperly, we risk awkward and difficult conversations, unnecessary romanticization, and potentially others lives. Since society has become more verbal when it comes to mental health, we now need to be aware of the appropriate ways to talk about it.

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Try not to share the specifics:

     Vivid imagery can lead to contagion, so there’s no need to publicize the ways a person did what they did. Research suggests that news stories that report in detail on the method used, can sensationalize suicide and increase the risk of similar deaths. Avoid uncomfortable and stigmatic conversations by leaving out the prominent details. 

For example, saying “He died at age 27,” sounds much better than saying, “He shot himself with a gun.”

Avoid negative platitudes: 

     When a person reaches out for support, they will receive a variety of responses. Some responses can feel very judgemental, like committing a sin, and those are the platitudes you’ll want to avoid.

“Your life isn't that bad.” or “You have so much to live for.”

A person may seem like they have the ideal life. They have a loving family and a great job, but a chemical imbalance tells them the opposite story. It can help if they feel understood, and unfortunately, this statement sends messages of doubt and scrutiny. Sometimes this might be a soothing reminder of abundance and hope, but for many people who do not at all feel they have much to live for, this shows a profound lack of understanding.

“How could you think of hurting me like that?” or “Suicide is selfish.”

Many people who seriously consider suicide actually think they are burdening their family by staying alive, and believe they would be showing care for their loved ones by freeing them of this burden. Your loved one already feels awful. Heaping guilt on top of that is not going to help them feel welcome to tell you more.

“Things could be worse.” or “Others have worse problems than you.” 

Things could be worse, but your loved one may have already considered this with shame. Comparing them to others who cope better, or who simply are lucky enough to never deal with mental health issues, may only worsen their self-condemnation. 

Stay away from words that promote stigma:

     The use of certain words can cause romanticization and impractical views on mental health. Disorders are not attractive and glamorous. They are ugly, frightening, and incredibly hard to deal with, so we don’t want to treat them like they’re gratifying. You’ll want to stay away from words that seem to treat suicide like an accomplishment or an intriguing subject.


Recognizing the signs:

     There are always hints to look out for when someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, so when signs go unrecognized, things could become fatal. Saying that a suicide is “inexplicable” or “without warning” is misleading and dangerous, and focusing only on positive aspects of the deceased person’s life without mentioning their struggles can glamorize suicide.

What to say instead:

     I’ve shared much about what NOT to say, but you might be wondering what CAN I say. The most important thing, when talking about mental health, is to practice validation. Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience as being valid. By using this method, you can be a listening ear, a partner in their struggle, and an ally who helps them feel less alone and hopeless. And always, it can be helpful to ask some of the most important words of all, “How can I help?” 






A Big Personal thanks to Brooke for putting this together for us and letting us share it! Suicide is something that affects more people thank you may know and is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US. The more that we bring awareness to this the more we are able to allow those who are suffering silently to share and that can do more healing than we could ever imagine! If you have a posting you would like to share with us please click HERE and let us know. It's about people helping people and again a huge thanks to Brooke for putting this together!

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