Stop Stigma: Safe Messaging About Suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Month
Words are powerful.
How we talk about a sensitive and complex topic such as suicide can have traumatizing or triggering effects on those who struggle with their mental health or individuals who have lost someone to suicide.
“Fear, shame, and misunderstanding around mental health concerns contributes to keeping suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the dark,” said Missy Stolfi, area director, Western & Greater Central New York Chapters, American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.
Learning more about mental health and suicide prevention can help demystify and change misperceptions about suicide. We then can feel more confident in addressing these topics when they appear in our lives, and know where to turn for help.
The language we use when we talk about suicide is extremely important and safe messaging is critical to keep our community safe.
For someone who is thinking about suicide, the words of those close to them and how suicide is portrayed in the media can prevent them from seeking life saving treatment.
If thoughts of suicide are seen as wrong, people who experience these thoughts will not be willing to admit them and get the help they so desperately need.
“They won’t talk about it or reach out for help because they think people will look down on them, think poorly of them,” Celia Spacone, Ph.D, Coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County.
How to Talk About Suicide
The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County encourages direct and open conversation about suicide.
Here are some suggestions on words to use and words to avoid.
|Suicide attempt, suicide death||Failed suicide, unsuccessful suicide, successful suicide, committed suicide|
|Took their own life||Committed suicide|
|They are thinking about suicide||Suicidal|
|Died as a result of self-injury||Chose to kill themselves|
|Rising, increasing rates||Epidemic, skyrocketing|
“Encourage people to get help and be hopeful—people can and do get better,” said Spacone. “By using the word suicide calmly and appropriately, they will know you are a safe person.”
Depicting suicide in graphic, detailed, sensationalized, or romantic ways have been shown to be harmful to those vulnerable to suicide. Additionally, by neutralizing our language around suicide such as avoiding phrases like “committed suicide” or “successful attempt” we can reduce the feelings of guilt, blame, or shame that are often associated after a loss or attempt.
According to Stolfi, Suicide Prevention Month shines a spotlight on the issue of suicide, provides information about local resources, reinforces the message that suicide can be preventable, and that we each can take steps in our personal and professional lives to help reduce this leading cause of death in the U.S.
National Suicide Prevention Month also highlights the many barriers that exist to access to quality mental health care for all communities, and is a call to action to address this important work at local, state, and national levels.
The Western New York Community will come together on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, to raise the Flag of Hope at the Rath Building. Coordinated by The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County elected officials and community members will proclaim that there is hope and help available. A video to raise awareness of means reduction—restricting access to firearms—will be released the day of the event.
According to Spacone, more people die by suicide by firearms than homicide by firearm, and the highest rates of suicide are men in their middle years. These individuals are often the least likely to reach out for help and those who use the most lethal methods. Research indicates that approximately 90 percent of individuals who survive a nonfatal attempt will not go on to die by suicide thereafter.
Another event to create awareness is the Out of the Darkness Buffalo Walk on Saturday, September 18 at Canalside Buffalo. Sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the walk provides community, connection, healing, and hope for survivors of suicide loss and those with lived experience.