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As suicide is discussed more openly, language adjusts

As the stigma surrounding suicide is starting to lift, the language of suicide prevention is becoming more nuanced. “We’re more open about it than we used to be,” said Julie Cerel, chairwoman of the board of the American Association of Suicidology. Suicide-prevention advocates say it is important to choose words carefully to prevent further stigmatizing those who have attempted suicide or lost a loved one:

  Use “suicide survivor” to refer to someone who is bereaved because of the loss of a loved one due to suicide.

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  Use “suicide-attempt survivor” to refer to someone who has attempted suicide but is still living.

  Avoid the term “committed” suicide. “It puts a negative connotation on it, like someone committed a sin or committed a crime,” said Cerel. Say “died by suicide” instead, as one would for other causes of death.

  Avoid the term “successful suicide.” “It is never something people would applaud as a success,” Cerel said. Likewise, don’t use “failed suicide,” counsels Bill Schmitz, the association’s president. “It just reinforces the sense of failure.” One of his pet peeves is the term “suicide gesture,” sometimes used to describe people who cut themselves for emotional release. “That term really demeans it and doesn’t take into account the actual pain and anguish going on,” he said.

  If you’re feeling suicidal or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.


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