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How experts recommend talking about suicide

How experts recommend talking about suicide


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This article talks about suicide. If you or someone you know may be having thoughts of suicide, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.Experts have been studying ways to stop suicide here in Utah. It is a problem through every age range and every gender. There has been a stigma around even openly speaking about the problem.

Language does matter when dealing with suicide. It matters to those in crisis who have suicidal thoughts and it also matters to those who have lost a family member or friend to suicide.

Here are ways to speak up and terms to avoid when talking about suicide.

Language matters

Experts have found that an important way to help remove the stigma to openly speaking about suicide is how we, as a community, speak about suicide.

“The way we think about something is reflected in the way talk about it. We really have the opportunity to open up the conversation and make it safe for people who are having suicidal thoughts to talk about those, versus creating an atmosphere in which they might feel ashamed,” said Lisa Nichols, Intermountain Healthcare Community Health associate vice president.

When talking about suicide the theme has typically been there was nothing that could have been done. Yet, the message should be changed to one of hope. As a community, there is hope for everyone and preventing suicide is possible.

“Historically people have worked under the assumption that if we talked about suicide it would create this chain reaction of suicide within the community or among the people who were speaking about it,” said Kathryn Richards, Intermountain’s Community Health Project manager. “In reality, it is quite the opposite. If we talk about it in a safe and healthy way it reduces stigma and really allows people to seek the help that they need.”


Reach out

If you know someone who has experienced suicide loss, be there for them and don’t stop after a few weeks. Richards is familiar with this as she lost a family member to suicide, and while people initially consoled her, it wasn’t long before those caring messages stopped.

“The immediate reaction is everyone is there for you, and everyone is very present,” Richards said. “But people clearly didn’t know what to say or how to talk about it. Saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all. There are notable moments like the first missed birthdays, holidays, anniversary of their passing. These moments became lonely.”

“That loneliness can really contribute to the risks factors,” said Richards.

Family and friends who have a loved one die by suicide have an increased risk of suicide themselves. Reach out to them and see if they are doing alright.

Avoid certain terms

Often times we could find ourselves using a word that we would never have considered harmful. Such as “I am so bored I could shoot myself.” Yet, what if that was said to someone struggling with their own loss, or their own suicidal thoughts? It’s time to reconsider what was consider playful banter.

If you feel if someone is at risk then it is appropriate to say you are worried about them. Ask if they are thinking about suicide. It won’t exacerbate their thoughts or behaviors.

There are also words to avoid when talking about suicide:

  • Do not say someone “committed” suicide, which suggests a moral or criminal context. Instead, you can say someone “died by suicide” or took their own life.

Never refer to suicide as “completed” or “successful”, which inadvertently implies it is a good thing. This topic was part of a recent Healthy Mind Matters radio program. If you or someone you know may be having thoughts of suicide, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Suicide prevention resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

What to do if you see warning signs of suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Related topics

Healthy Mind Matters


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