Erica Saum, LMSW
Suicide Prevention Program Lead
Words matter; language matters.
Long gone are the days where sticks and stones break will our bones and words will never harm us. Our words have the power to lift people up or tear them down. The words we use can shape our actions, and our actions can help others. At CNS Healthcare, we are focused on lifting people up and supporting them in their lives. As we work to implement the zero suicide philosophy, we are challenging ourselves to think about suicide differently, and build awareness and the impact we can have on each other.
As an agency focused on innovation and best practices, we need to use person first language. When referring to someone with a mental illness of any type, we state the person first, then refer to any illness or condition they are experiencing. For example, we would state “someone with bipolar disorder” or “an individual with depression” – not a bipolar individual or depressed individual. In suicide prevention, if someone is suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, their suicidality would come after them as an individual. For example, we say “an individual who is suicidal”, or “a person who is having suicidal thoughts”. First and foremost, the person is still a person, and the suicidal ideation is something they are experiencing, not something that defines them.
One of the more commonly used phrases, has been that someone “commits” suicide. As we move forward in evolving and growing in our understanding of suicide prevention, the field of suicidology has moved away from the language of “commit”. Saying someone commits suicide implies that they have committed a crime or a sin. Instead, there is a movement to encourage language such as “died by suicide”. We also do not recommend common language that has been used referring to a successful suicide or failed attempt. No death is a success, and an attempt that is not completed is not a failure. Again, it is the belief that words matter and changing our words can be the beginning of breaking down the stigma and opening conversations to save lives.