Use of Language

The language that we chose to use when talking about mental health, mental illness and suicide and self harm can elicit a number of reactions in other people, particularly those who are immediately affected, and care needs to be taken to avoid offence, judgement, sensationalism, exaggeration, or the perpetuation of stigma.

A number of organisations in the UK, and more widely, provide guidance on use of language regarding suicide:

Key points to consider when talking about suicide are: 

SayInstead of Because
‘died by suicide’ or ‘ended his/her/their own life ‘committed’ or ‘commit suicide’ To avoid association between suicide and ‘crime’. Suicide was decriminalised in 1961 in the UK 
‘took their own life’, ‘died by suicide’ or ‘ended their own life’ ‘successful suicide’To avoid presenting suicide as a desired outcome 
‘non-fatal’ or ‘made an attempt on his/her/their life’ ‘unsuccessful suicide’ To avoid presenting suicide as a desired outcome or glamorising a suicide attempt 
‘concerning rates of suicide’ ‘suicide epidemic’To avoid sensationalism and exaggeration of the risks 
source: Responding to issues of self harm and thoughts of suicide in young people

Choosing our words carefully is about more than avoiding stigmatizing terms. The language we use can also have a positive effect, which makes choosing the right words just as important as avoiding the wrong ones.  Avoid anything that: 

  • reinforces stereotypes, prejudice or discrimination against people with mental illness or suicidal ideation 
  • implies mental illness makes people more creative, fragile or violent 
  • refers to or defines people by their diagnosis 

We know that talking to someone about suicide won’t cause or increase suicidal thoughts, or cause the person to act on them. It can help them feel less isolated and scared 

Be hopeful. People can and do get better. Encourage people to seek help 


Beaton, S. (2013). (n.d.). Suicide and language: Why we shouldn’t use the “C” word | APS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Mar. 2022]. 

Everymind. (n.d.). Language and suicide. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Mar. 2022]. 

Freedenthal, S. (2017). Language Matters: Committed Suicide vs. Completed Suicide vs. Died by Suicide. [online] Speaking of Suicide. Available at: [Accessed 10 Dec. 2019]. 

Words matter. (n.d.). [online] Available at: