Words Matter: How to Talk about Suicide

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death for all ages in the U.S., according to the CDC.

It’s an extremely sensitive subject to discuss, but it’s important that we do our best to show compassion and handle conversations surrounding suicide and mental health with extra care.

The words we use matter. What is said behind closed doors with co-workers can be the seed for stigma and discrimination against a person based on a physical or mental health disorder. What you say in front of a patient can be an important factor in whether or not a person decides to seek care.

Here’s some advice on how to approach this topic in a more sensitive manner.

If you hear this…

People who talk about their thoughts or
urges to commit suicide do so because
they want attention

Someone who really wants to end their
life is beyond help, and there’s nothing
we can do.

The patient committed suicide.

The patient had an (un)successful suicide

I deal with a lot of suicidal patients while I’m at work.

If we talk about suicide, it will put the idea
in their heads.                                      

I’d rather shoot myself than do that/This task
makes me want to jump off a bridge.

These words spread myths and
falsehoods that can prevent people
from getting the help they need.


Try saying this…

Talking about suicidal thoughts is an important
first step for someone with suicidal ideation,
and can lead to seeking professional help.

Suicide is preventable. Nine out of 10 people
who attempt suicide will not go on to die by

The patient died by suicide.

The patient attempted suicide/The patient
died by suicide.

I work with patients experiencing suicidal
thoughts or who have attempted suicide.

Talking about suicide reduces its
stigma, allowing for open conversations
that can lead to the person seeking help.

Joking about or using suicide in hyperbolic
manner can increase stigma.

These words show compassion and
understanding, which can lead to treatment.


If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline which is available toll-free 24/7.

Source: American Hospital Association, Centers for Disease Control, www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/survival