Communicating about suicide can help raise awareness and support of suicide prevention efforts, and identify those who may need extra support and connect them to services.
However, it is important to use care and caution when talking about suicide. Certain messaging content related to suicide can increase suicide risk for vulnerable people.
What is safe messaging?
Certain ways of talking about suicide can alienate members of any community, sensationalize the issue, or even contribute to suicide by presenting it as a glamorous, or even preferred, way of dealing with problems.
Those who are at risk of suicide, or those who are close to a person who died by suicide, can be particularly affected by the messages we use.
Safe messaging avoids harmful messages that might increase suicide risk in individuals or undermine suicide prevention goals. Safe messaging reduces stigma and encourages help seeking. The heart of the messaging is respectful and places emphasis on care and concern.
What language should I use?
The language we use not only helps prevent suicide, but also shapes our perceptions around the issue of suicide.
“Died by suicide.”
“Took his or her life.”
Do not use
Associates suicide with a crime or sin that may alienate some people.
Speak neutrally and factually.
“Died by suicide.”
“Ended his/her life.”
“Attempt to end his/her life.”
Do not use
“Failed or unsuccessful attempt.”
Presents or implies suicide is a desired or positive outcome.
“Concerning suicide rates.”
Do not use
Makes suicide seem like a sensational topic and too overwhelming to address.
Telling stories of hope and resilience
The way we talk and communicate about suicide prevention can influence how people think, feel and act regarding suicide and suicide prevention.
Too often, public messaging conveys negative narratives about suicide; for example, suicide is a common, acceptable, or inevitable response to stress and/or depression.
Public messaging often focuses on the problem of suicide and depression. This can discourage people from help-seeking behaviors – no one wants to add to the problem.
Sharing stories of hope and resilience can help people believe that suicide is preventable, recovery is possible, and help is available.
Focusing on the positive does not mean hiding the tragedy of suicide or never talking about suicide as a problem. Rather, the goal is to increase the likelihood that positive and helpful messages of suicide prevention will also be shared.
How can I talk about suicide prevention?
A positive narrative is an overarching theme, not a predefined message or particular language.
Positive narratives might include:
Sharing information on helplines, support services, and programs.
Promoting concrete and realistic actions that a anyone can take to prevent suicide.
Sharing personal stories of coping, resilience, and recovery, as well as stories about reaching out for help and receiving it.
Like the words we use, images and photos can shape our perceptions. Images connected to suicide often focus on the problem and convey hopelessness, despair, and inevitability.
A better practice is to focus on people enjoying life or connecting with others for help. Think of this as showing the positive result of suicide prevention efforts. Images of people enjoying life or getting help can remind people that help and hope is possible.
Graphic images of suicide or the location where someone has died by suicide.
Images of isolation, stress, or depression.
Images of common methods of suicide.
Dark, threatening, worrying colors and branding.
Talking with someone you are worried about
Suicide messaging is important when addressing the public at large and in one to one conversations with people. Thoughtful expression of our concerns in a one on one conversation can increase the likelihood that the person will accept help or reach out for support. Listen to the person without judgment, criticism or attempting to ‘fix’ the problem. If you are uncertain if your friend or loved one is at risk, ask directly — “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” Be aware of supports and resources to connect them to if the answer is yes. Attending a suicide prevention training can increase knowledge, comfort, and skills to have a conversation with someone whenyou are concerned. Consider attending Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR), safeTALK, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). For additional resources, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness at https://namimn.org.
Contact Crow Wing Energized for more information: https://crowwingenerized.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text MN to 741 741
Crisis Line and Referral Service: 1-800-462-5525