How to talk about suicide

Suicide is a highly sensitive issue which has long been stigmatized by society. People affected by suicide often feel isolated and helpless, and fear being judged by society. So, while it is important to increase conversation about suicide in order to remove the taboo around it, we must also remember that it is an illness, and be sensitive about it when we discuss it. 

With the growing number of suicides today, it is possible that one may occur in our community or social circle. This can have a profound effect on the family and friends, and the community at large, causing severe shock and grief. Listed below are a few things to keep in mind when talking about suicide.

  • Do not speculate on the reasons for suicide: Suicide is the result of a combination of various factors which causes severe distress to the person. Speculation about the reasons for suicide is insensitive and trivializes the fact, so we must respect the privacy of the deceased.
  • Do not discuss the method used:Discussing the method of suicide is also an invasion of the person’s privacy. Moreover, it also affects people who may be at risk of suicide, as it gives them ideas on how to end their lives.
  • Don’t be judgmental; suicide is not a sign of weakness:Suicide is a complex phenomenon which results from a combination of many deep-seated factors in a person’s life. It is an illness and not a sign of weakness.
  • Families bereaved by suicide need your support. Don’t talk about the suicide unless they want to:People bereaved by suicide feel isolated and the stigma surrounding suicide makes it worse for them. It might seem challenging to reach out to someone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide as you might be unsure about what to say to them. It is important to remember that all they are looking for is your support in a time of immense distress.
  • Do not say things such as “didn’t they think about their family?” or “how could they?”:This is an extension of the third point – do not judge and assume to understand what the person was going through.

Why we should not say ‘committed’ suicide

To generate healthy conversation about suicide, it is important that we use the correct terms in order to destigmatize suicide. The term ‘commit’ suicide was coined at a time when suicide was treated as a crime. However, lately there has been increasing research into why people get thoughts of suicide, and there is a better understanding of the phenomenon. With this progress, it is also important that we become more sensitive to the issue and do not malign people affected by suicide. Hence, we should rather use terms such as ‘ended their life’, rather than ‘committed suicide’.