Language used when talking about suicide can have a negative impact on survivors and can prolong the stigma associated with suicide. Although we may hear that someone has “committed suicide,” most people find “died by suicide” to be more objective and less judgmental. The terms “committed suicide”, “completed suicide”, ‘incomplete’, ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘failed suicide attempts’ should not be used.
- The word ‘commit’ presents a particular problem since it is also used for criminal offences. It evokes a time when suicide was a criminal act. Suicide has not been a criminal act since 1972 in Canada.
- The word ‘committed’ can also have a negative religious inference as in committing a sin. This refers back to a time when someone who died by suicide was not allowed to be buried in Catholic cemeteries. In 1983, a papal decree reversed this prohibition.
- To describe a suicide attempt that does not result in death as a “failure” is misleading. To say it was a ‘failed’ attempt infers that the person was a failure for living.
- To say an action was an ‘unsuccessful’ attempt infers that to have died was to be successful. Obviously, the term “successful” does not match the meaning of the word with the action.
The preferred terms to use are died by suicide or died by their own hand – thesemore accurately describe the reality of suicide without judgement and respect the needs of those left behind.