In the mental health field, professional counselors choose their language about suicide carefully. We long ago moved away from referring to someone “committing suicide” to someone who “died by suicide.” This change to reduce stigma stems from several reasons, including the equating of a suicide attempt with a criminal act and dying by suicide more accurately locating the cause of death in the illness to which suicide is related. The other explanation for the change is the more typical meaning of the word “committed,” which has synonyms like “dedicated,” “faithful,” “pledged” and “devoted.”
Many people who survive suicide attempts are able to discuss the regret they felt as soon as they took that irrevocable step. A particularly dramatic example is Kevin Hines, who is one of just a handful of people who survived a suicide attempt when he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. Kevin describes feeling overwhelming regret the instant his feet left the bridge, and he has dedicated his life to combatting mental illness stigma and suicide prevention.
Beginning the conversation
Preventing suicide sounds more difficult than it is and, in truth, the most important step is beginning the conversation. For that son or daughter, brother or sister, friend, neighbor or coworker, noticing that they seem different and asking if they have been having a difficult time opens the door for a more direct conversation. Don’t be afraid to directly ask, “Have you had any thoughts of hurting yourself?” or “Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” Asking a person this question does not increase the likelihood that they will attempt suicide—it may be the opening they are looking for to seek help.
Just as importantly, if someone tells you that they are considering suicide, believe them. It takes incredible courage to start the conversation and seek support. Suicide prevention models are built on the idea that there should be no wrong door into counseling and treatment for suicidal thoughts and mental illness. Once you can begin the conversation, ask what they need and try to help get them connected to professional support. Being willing to help someone who is desperate enough to consider suicide is the kind of commitment we should all be willing to make.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line by texting “Home” to 741741.