Mental Health Column: Learning appropriate suicide terminology - The South End: Perspectives

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Mental Health Column: Learning appropriate suicide terminology

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Posted: Monday, October 19, 2015 7:00 am

Just because you are comfortable discussing suicide does not mean people will think you are suicidal (just had to get that out the way). Now let’s begin the conversation.

Suicide can be a touchy subject, and there is appropriate terminology that should be used during certain conversations. Trying to comprehend why someone takes his or her own life can be difficult to understand and can lead to very emotional conversations. Talking about death in general is difficult, but there seems to be an aspect of suicide that invokes what I like to call the "what if factor." Lost survivors might question what they could have done to prevent the death.

It’s important for lost survivors to know that the death was not their fault.

The major thing when discussing suicide is to not stigmatize or seemingly criminalize the act because suicide is no longer illegal in the United States. In the earlier half of the 20th century, some states listed the act of suicide as a felony. There are still some countries where the act is illegal. Knowing what words to use and avoid could make the difference in a serious conversation.

Below are terminology recommendations from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Terminology to avoid:

• Committed

• Completed/successful

• Failed/unsuccessful

Terminology to use:

• Died by suicide

• Ended his or her life

Terminology to use during an intervention

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, it is important to get that individual professional help. Research finds that most people are ambivalent about dying. The person wants the pain to end, but has yet to find a suitable alternative to suicide.

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, avoid using jargon and directly ask the person, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?" Sometimes a person is afraid to bring up the subject, but once directly asked feels more comfortable discussing the topic.

Becoming vulnerable to this topic takes time. The only way to decrease stigma related to suicide is to talk about it and learn the appropriate language for conversations and interventions.

If you are interested in suicide intervention training, please contact the African American Psychology Student Organization at The organization will be hosting free LivingWorks training. LivingWorks is a suicide intervention training company that trains community helpers.

In Lily of the Valley, columnist Susan Woods delivers commentary on mental health concerns, while offering ways to combat the issues at hand. Woods is a senior journalism and psychology major at WSU. She is the president and co-founder of the African American Psychology Student Organization, which provides a platform for psychological issues to be discussed.

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