How to Talk About Suicide

How We Talk About Suicide Matters

It’s more than okay to talk about suicide. It’s essential.

Whether we’re thinking about the concept of suicide or talking with someone who we’re worried about, it can bring up feelings of discomfort, fears, and doubts about what to do/say and what not to do/say. There are a lot of myths out there that don’t make this easier. Although it might be uncomfortable, talking about suicide is one of the most important things all of us can do to be a part of suicide prevention. And how you talk about it matters. 

It’s Essential to Talk About Suicide

Talking About Suicide Matters

When we talk about suicide in a thoughtful and objective way, we can all help to decrease the stigma associated with it. This helps everybody. When you talk about suicide, you can:  
  • Be part of suicide prevention
  • Educate yourself
  • Be a part of a new conversation dispelling myths about suicide
  • Open the line of communication around mental health
  • You can provide relief for folx who are thinking about suicide
  • Be a safe person for someone thinking about suicide to reach out to

Help someone thinking about suicide get the support they need

49% of US Adults are comfortable talking openly about suicide in public.1
two people using sign langauge sitting at a table

The Language We Use Matters

Here are some tips on how to talk about suicide in a more thoughtful and objective way.


"Committed suicide"

"Failed suicide"

"Successful suicide"

"Suicide epidemic"

"Suffering from" or "victim of mental illness"


"Died by suicide"

"Suicide attempt"

"Took their own life"

"Increasing" or "concerning rates"

"Living with" or "experiencing a mental health condition"


Here's Why

  • The word "committed" is associated with criminal behavior or error. Changing the phrase decriminalizes the act.
  • Words that glamorize suicide attempts, like "failed" or "unsuccessful" should be avoided.
  • The word "successful" suggests suicide is the desired outcome.
  • It's best to avoid dramatic or sensational language when describing suicide rates.
  • Derogatory language can alienate or belittle those with mental health challenges.

Adapted from Stamp Out Stigma.

Ask: “Are you thinking about suicide?”

One of the most impactful things you can do if you’re concerned about someone is to ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” If even the tiniest or most fleeting thought crosses your mind that someone is thinking about suicide, ask the question. Use the word “suicide” when you ask. 

When someone says yes, here’s what to do next: 

Validate, Appreciate, Refer®is a way to listen to someone you care about and help them cope. It’s an approach that could make all the difference to that person and help prevent a crisis.

V: Validate their feelings

A: Appreciate their courage

R: Refer them to skills and support

3 V-A-R® Steps: Active Minds

If you're looking for more specific questions to ask around suicide and risk level, use this Columbia Protocol.