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Let's Talk:

How We Talk About Suicide Matters

Words matter.

Let’s face it, suicide is a very difficult topic. And believe it or not, even mental health professionals struggle with how to talk about it. This is why it’s so important to bring the discussion of suicide into the open. The more we can talk about something, the easier those discussions become. We’ve learned that the words we choose to talk about suicide matter.

When it comes to talking about suicide, we’ve learned it’s better to say:


  • Died by suicide
  • Completed suicide
  • Ended his/her/their own life
  • Killed himself/herself/themselves
  • Suicide attempt

Not This

  • Committed suicide - it’s not a crime
  • Successful suicide
  • Failed suicide attempt

What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Suicidal Ideations

Many people struggle with their mental health and often, the struggle overwhelms them, to the point of not wanting to live anymore. While not having a specific plan to kill themselves, many people no longer feel interested in living. The absence of a will to live is most often rooted in deep emotional suffering.

As scary as it may sound to the listener when someone shares their suicidal thoughts, it is a positive sign because this can be the first step in getting the help that will lead to relief from the suffering. Demonstrating care and support is key. This can be accomplished through active listening, direct eye contact, physical calmness, and “leaning in” with full attention rather than shying away from the content of their thoughts or changing the subject.

Top 5 things NOT to say:

  1. Nothing—ignoring or “pretending” you didn’t hear what the suicidal person was saying or implying.
  2. Why? you have so much to live for.
  3. But think about your kids, family, friends, good life, etc.
  4. But killing yourself is a sin/wrong/unfair.
  5. You’re being dramatic…. overreacting…. c’mon man…..you’re not serious, right?

Top 5 things TO say:

  1. Thank you for telling me…I know that must have taken a lot of courage.
  2. I’m sorry that you are in so much pain.
  3. Who else knows that you are having thoughts of killing yourself?
  4. I care about you and I want to help you.
  5. Do you have any thoughts about what I can do for you right now?

It is important to express support just as you would for anyone in physical pain (imagine coming across a person who just fell and broke their leg….). Expressing support and concern in a calm, non-judgmental manner can be the first step in receiving treatment.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

You are not alone. Depression affects many of us.

Closeup of athlete hand before his attempt to lift barbellAthletes with Depression

For years, there has existed a myth that celebrities and sports figures are somehow immune to the devastation of depression and other psychological conditions that lead to suicidal thinking. That myth is being shattered by the outspokenness of Olympic athletes such as Simone Biles and Michael Phelps as well as NBA players like Kevin Love and DeMar Rozan and tennis star Naomi Osaka. Each of these star athletes has candidly revealed their personal struggles with depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. Their personal disclosures prove that fame, fortune, and glory do not confer immunity against the ravages of conditions that can lead to suicide.

Celebrities with Depression

In her 2005 memoir, the celebrity actress Brooke Shields wrote of her struggle with Postpartum Depression “I didn’t feel joyful. I attributed feelings of doom to simple fatigue and figured that they would eventually go away. But they didn’t; in fact, they got worse…....at my lowest points, I thought of swallowing a bottle of pills or jumping out the window of my apartment”.

Social Media and Mental Health

We are living in an age of social media that sanitizes and unrealistically portrays people's lives. It is easy to get swept up in the myth that everyone else’s life is blissful. Questions such as “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I measure up?” may creep in with a snowballing effect that can lead to feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, low self-esteem, and ultimately depression.

More than ever, our lives are being upended by climate disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, joblessness, financial stress, and diminished social and recreational outlets. In other words, life as we once knew it, has changed. For many, these massive disruptions can result in feelings of hopelessness and despair that can lead to thoughts of death and suicide. As noted by Jake Lamb, when playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks, “Everyone has their issues, whether its mental health or other things,” he said. “Talking to a friend or family members always helps me.”

Support systems are the key. Friends, family members, members of the faith community, doctors, and therapists are all individuals who may be able to provide help.

The Providence Center 24-hour Behavioral Health Emergency Line

Providence Center crisis clinicians provide 24/7 telephone assistance for adults and children in crisis.

Call (401) 274-7111

Individuals who take their own life:

  • Woman hiking through a forest in the countrysideAre in intense emotional and sometimes physical pain
  • Feeling hopeless with the belief that there is no relief in sight
  • Sometimes act on impulse, fueled by substances

We now know that suicide is a result of complex factors and most often has its roots in a treatable mental health condition. There is no single cause. When suicide is talked about safely and accurately, we can help reduce the likelihood of its occurrence.

We want to change how society understands mental health and suicide – because when we open up and connect with one another, talk saves lives.

For more information about suicide and suicide prevention please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; https://afsp.org/chapter/rhode-island

Downloadable Resources

Some content on this page was generously shared by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

Are you a health care provider?

Being able to talk about suicide in a straightforward, confident way communicates to our patients and loved ones that it is okay to talk about suicide. This may increase the chance that they come to us when they need help. The more comfortable we can be talking about suicide, the more comfortable others may be in talking to us.  Then, we can connect people with the help that they need.

Learn More