Suicide: Let's talk about it #4 - Why words matter

10 July 2019

Talking about suicide can be difficult. Rachel explains the effect some words may have and what language we should try to use instead.


Breaking the silence is an important step in challenging the taboo and guiding people who experience suicidal thoughts to the most appropriate support services.

Mental health charities like Mind, Rethink and Samaritans, as well as public figures including Stephen Fry, Professor Green and Sadiq Khan have urged individuals and organisations to consider the language they use when talking about suicide.

Avoid "commit", "confess", "admit" when talking about suicide and mental health

Using words such as "commit", "confess" and "admit" may associate a feeling of guilt to suicide. It is important to remember that suicide is not a crime and people should not be made to feel guilty for having suicidal thoughts.

It is more appropriate to use terms such as "died by/of suicide", "revealed / disclosed they had suicidal thoughts", "took their own life".

Avoid language of "success" and "failure"

We should seek to avoid language that glorifies suicide or suggests that ending one’s life is an achievement. Words such as "successful", "unsuccessful","completed" or "failed" following an event in which someone has tried to take their life should be omitted.

Avoid speculation, blame and gossip

The reasons why someone may decide to take their life can be complex and private. It can often be unhelpful to speculate about the situation, particularly as doing so may hurt those closest to the person who has died. This is particularly true of discussion that attributes selfishness or weakness to the person who has died or blame to the people close to them. 

Suicide in the media

Suicide has been more widely presented, both in documentaries and in drama.  Research suggests that the way suicide is presented by the media can affect subsequent suicide rates (Niederkrotenthaler et al 2018).

Samaritans have published guidelines for the media, which help journalists reporting on factual suicides, to avoid adding to the trauma suffered by those near to a person who has died or inadvertently encouraging suicide.

These guidelines may be found on the Samaritans website.

How you can help

You can help change the way we talk about suicide by:

  • understanding the myths and reality of suicide and how you can support someone considering taking their life
  • considering the language you use to talk about suicide
  • gently challenging others who use stigmatising language such as "commit suicide" if you feel it is appropriate to do so
  • sending the Samaritans guidelines to journalists and organisations who use outdated or unhelpful language when talking about suicide

Further resources