Wait, Who Is A Suicide Survivor Again?

 

suicide survivorAcross the Internet and elsewhere, people apply the term suicide survivor to two different groups of people: 1) people who struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, and survived, and 2) people who were never suicidal at all, but who lost a loved one to suicide. 

In a post last year, I defined a suicide survivor as someone who lost a friend, family member, or other loved one to suicide. I explained my use of the term this way:

The term “suicide survivor” – or “survivor of suicide” – is reserved for those left behind. It is used in the same sense that an obituary will say, “The deceased is survived by ….”  

I was hardly alone. For decades, thousands of people – including researchers, suicide prevention advocates, lawmakers, and ordinary people – have used the term “suicide survivor” (or “survivor of suicide”) specifically for people who lost a loved one to suicide. The psychologist Edwin Shneidman, considered the father of modern suicidology, applied the term “survivor of a suicide” to people who lost a loved one to suicide as early as 1965.

Since then, numerous groups refer to people who lost a loved one to suicide as “suicide survivors” or “survivors of suicide,” including the World Health OrganizationAlliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors, and even the U.S. Congress, which 15 years ago established National Survivors of Suicide Day (the Saturday before Thanksgiving) to recognize people who lost a loved one to suicide.

In the last 40 or so years, numerous books targeting “suicide survivors” have helped people move through their grief, books like Survivors of SuicideSuicide Survivors HandbookSuicide Survivors: A Guide for Those Left BehindMeditations for Survivors of Suicide, and No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One.

Times are Changing

Despite the term’s long history, I will no longer refer to people who have lost somebody to suicide as “suicide survivors” on this website, Speaking of Suicide. Instead, I will use the term “suicide loss survivors.”

Here’s why:

www.talkingaboutsuicide.com

www.talkingaboutsuicide.com

In recent years, a great number of people have come forward and publicly disclosed that they seriously considered suicide or made a suicide attempt. These courageous individuals have brought into the light a problem long stigmatized and hidden.

Blogs such as talkingaboutsuicide.com, attemptsurvivors.com, and livethroughthis.org contain photographs, interviews, personal accounts, and even videos of hundreds of people who thought about or attempted suicide, almost always with their full names attached. In just the last few months, articles highlighting this movement toward openness and advocacy have appeared in the New York Times, and the Boston Globe.

livethroughthis.org

livethroughthis.org

As more and more people with “lived experiences” of suicide have spoken out, the clashing definitions of “suicide survivor” have created ever more confusion. David Webb, PhD, is a suicidologist who survived a suicide attempt. He writes:

 

“When I first started looking at the suicide literature, I did a Google search on ‘suicide survivor’, hoping to connect with fellow survivors. Google replied with dozens, maybe hundreds, of hits but instead of fellow survivors, I found that this language had been claimed by those bereaved by suicide. I was rather taken aback by this… It seemed like we were invisible to Google and I felt that even the language we might use to identify ourselves had been stolen.” 

www.attemptsurvivors.com

www.attemptsurvivors.com

Increasingly, people who made it through a suicidal crisis are claiming the term “suicide survivor” for themselves – people like Andrew O’Brien, the veteran who proclaims in an online video, referring to his outreach to soldiers, “I am a suicide survivor from PTSD… [one day] I told my suicide story to 500 uniformed soldiers, and I am not embarrassed by it.”

Major suicide prevention organizations are responding to the language controversy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention changed the name of its International Survivors of Suicide Day to International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. The American Association of Suicidology now has a category on its website for suicide loss survivors. 

Those who got out of a suicidal crisis alive really did survive a battle with suicide. Suicide tried to kill them, quite literally. And they lived to tell about it.

A Disclaimer

© Skdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Skdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos

If you have lost a friend, son, daughter, spouse, sibling or other family member to suicide, you might identify as a “suicide survivor” even as others move away from the term. If you were to talk with me and call yourself a suicide survivor, I would never disagree or judge. What you call yourself is up to you, and the term “suicide survivor” may hold great meaning for you.

This post is not meant to imply rules or mandates for others to follow. Instead, I simply want to explain the terminology that I use on this website, and why. 

Two groups of people with different needs and, in some ways, different agendas are going by the same name. It is confusing, and, to some people who have been through a suicidal crisis, it is hurtful, too. 

Who Came First?

Suicide loss survivors were the first to adopt the term suicide survivors on a massive scale. Yet they were not the original suicide survivors.

I looked on Google Scholar for the first academic article ever to refer to suicide survivors. Among the many thousands of journals searchable by Google, the term suicide survivor first appeared in 1959, in an article that referred to “a post-slaying suicide survivor who had to be institutionalized for four years before he recovered sufficient mentality to stand trial.”

Golden Gate Bridge suicide

Fotolia.com

In 1975, a journal article reported the fates of seven people who survived after jumping off the Golden Gate or Oakland Bay bridge. Its title? “Suicide Survivors: A Follow-up Study of Persons Who Survived Jumping from the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges.”

Still, even though there are a couple early references to suicide attempt survivors as “suicide survivors,” the term overwhelmingly has been used for people who lost a loved one to suicide.

Some people refer to suicide loss survivors by other terms. John R. Jordan, Ph.D., states, “In Europe and Australia, the more common language used to refer to this category of mourner is ‘the suicide bereaved’ or ‘the bereaved by suicide.’” I dislike these terms, because ideally bereavement is a time-limited period of mourning. Suicide loss is permanent.

Do Suicide Survivors Really Exist?

Created at wordle.net

Created at wordle.net

Regardless of who it is applied to, I have struggled with the term “suicide survivor.” Yes, someone who lost a loved one to suicide did not survive suicide. But really, nobody can survive suicide. Suicide is death. The only “death survivors” or “survivors of death” are those left behind. I presume this is why family and friends were called “suicide survivors” in the first place, just as people who lost a loved one to murder are called “survivors of homicide” and “homicide survivors.” 

But “suicide survivor,” when applied to people who have seriously considered or attempted suicide, is a sort of shorthand. No, people do not survive suicide, but they do survive a suicidal crisis or a suicide attempt. “Suicidal crisis survivor” is clumsy. Really, who talks that way? “Suicide attempt survivor” comes more naturally, and its use grows as more websites, organizations, and news articles refer to attempt survivors.

The term “suicide attempt survivor” is imperfect, too. It excludes people who fiercely battled – or still battle – with suicidal thoughts and impulses without acting on them. Say that suicidal thoughts stalk a woman day in and day out. Finally, one night she lies in bed, tearful and clutching in her hands the means to kill herself, even rehearsing using it in various ways without actually harming herself. For hours, suicidal thoughts assault her. Despite her pain, despite her hopelessness, she exerts tremendous restraint just to stay alive. 

Isn’t she a survivor, too? If so, a survivor of what?

A Caveat about Labeling

I expect that one criticism of this post will be why I feel the need to label people at all. Labels can be seen as dehumanizing – isn’t someone who survived a suicidal crisis or a suicide loss really just a person first?

I agree with person-first language. As a social work professor, I teach my students that there are no “borderlines,” only people with borderline personality, no schizophrenics, only people with schizophrenia. 

Labels can hurt, yet labels also can help. Whether we are talking about cancer survivors or suicide attempt survivors, trauma survivors or suicide loss survivors, the survivor labels can give people a way to connect with others like them, a sense of belonging, even a touch of pride and identity. They have survived

A Work in Progress

For now, at least, this site will use the labels “suicide attempt survivor” and “suicide loss survivor.” This certainly does not mean that SpeakingOfSuicide.com will exclude people who survived a suicidal crisis without making a suicide attempt, only that it will not refer to them by a shorthand label. 

Ultimately, I would like to see the term “suicide survivor” apply to people who have survived a suicidal crisis – any suicidal crisis. The suicidal thoughts or suicide attempt could have killed them, yet they made it out alive.

At the same time, I worry that the term “suicide survivor” for survivors of suicidal crisis creates too much confusion, because of the term’s use, as well, by suicide loss survivors. 

What do you think?

© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved. Written for www.speakingofsuicide.com

Photo purchased from Fotolia.com

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© Copyright 2014 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide

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  1. Lilith Grace says:

    Ms. Freedenthal, I’m two years late, but what you wrote back in 2014 is still as relevant as ever — as online searches for the term “suicide survivor” indicate. (e.g. One of the most frequent comments that I hear from folks who call the hotline at which I volunteer seeking support as they recover from an attempt or suicidal depression is that they first searched Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, or even Amazon for support resources for fellow travelers and came up empty — yet were deluged with resources for the loved ones of successful suicides. Surely, in today’s information age, we can do better than this! Adding precision to terminology is a critical step in the right direction.)

    Language matters. Your coinage and championing of “suicide loss survivor” as a distinct category from “suicide survivor” — and your ongoing efforts to persuade other writers, practitioners, and advocates to reserve the latter term for those who’ve either attempted suicide themselves or lived through their own severe suicidal depression — go a long way toward relieving stigma and alienation while helping to build community. Suicide loss survivors deserve study and compassion, and it is right that there is no shortage of support groups and written material aimed at them. yet it is also true that the same plenitude of ink and attention has, sadly, not been extended to folks who’ve survived either suicide attempts or the serious contemplation of same. Ensuring that folks in this latter group of ‘survivors’ at least have a name to themselves is a step in the right direction. Indeed, it might even save lives by making it easier for such ‘survivors’ to connect with the resources that they need online and elsewhere and thus stave off relapse/further attempts.

    Thanks so much for doing what you do! Best wishes to you and yours for the ongoing holiday season.

    • Anonymous says:

      I appreciate your reply, as well as the article. I searched the term “suicide survivor” this morning in an attempt to connect to someone who could help me navigate a state that seems to virtually assure another, one would hope more competent, attempt. It seemed reasonable. Hurricane survivors are the ones who survive the storm, not the ones watching on tv. All I found was an endless supply of agreement that I am nothing. I don’t matter, may as well not exist anyway because I already don’t in the eyes of pretty much everyone. But hey, all those people bitching and rolling their eyes at my pleas for help? At least they will get the support they need for having had to endure me. Perhaps others will keep pushing to make the inconvenient exist enough that others will be served.

  2. Eve's legacy says:

    I made a very serious suicide attempt 12.26.08 n miraculously survived and then my beloved eldest son, specialist Adam Patrick Curren, killed himself 3.7.14. He tried 2 call me 3x’s minutes b4, but i was in a freak 5 day coma. My ex relayed that 2 me over the phone when i woke up. I knew something was off base a few weeks earlier and begged him to come home 4 a week. I had said to him god doesn’t make mistakes when i had asked him if he had any prejudices against gays n he said no. I said “good, god doesn’t make mistakes.” he said ‘yes mom, god does’. My alarms went off! His thinking was off base. He said he was too busy with (gods work) as the owner of a remodeling (carpenter) co. N he n his girlfriend were going on vacation. Our last words were that we loved each other.

    Anyways to the point, i have had enuf of the senseless loss of life due to suicide n i am doing something about it. Or dying trying! Pls help me get the word out 2 loved ones to see eve’s legacy at GoFundMe. My goal is 2 open up 24/7 memorial outreach centers. I want 2 put an end to suicide once n 4 all. Although my story doesn’t indicate it, i want 2 honor all of the lives lost 2 suicide (think along the lines of the aids quilts).

    Pls pls pls help me spread the word as far n wide as possible. I have 2 limited knowledge with the web.

    Thank you n god bless!

    Evelyn m. Curren

  3. the bitter half says:

    When I first came across the term suicide survivors and the group the phrase is attributed to, I too felt uncertain about the usage of the term and the people it identifies with. However, after reading and thinking and diving into the topic, the issue that is suicide, I felt like it fit perfectly. Someone once told me that they survived suicide, and I know when they spoke the words it was meant to connect and reach out, but instead I took extreme offense of the context as if it was implied they were strong enough to live through it and that my sister just didn’t have enough character or resilience- like that suicide can be beat…There is already a huge stigma that is associated with the term suicide and the people it associated with and the usage of “suicide survivors” only adds to that as if suicide can be overcome and that it is an issue of character or perseverance…No. Suicide is finite. It is a period that marks the end of a sentence to signal nothing comes after. You don’t survive death, you don’t overcome death, instead you have a near death experience. You attempted suicide, you thought about it, but you don’t beat it. Instead you beat depression you beat whatever underlining mental illness or traumatic experience that leads you to that situation. People that have been lost to suicide can’t post their thoughts and write how they feel because they are no longer of this world. I applaud all those that have attempted or thought of suicide and fought through depression to tell your stories because it is hard and underappreciated, but that does not make you a survivor of suicide contrary to whatever fancy term you wish to be associated with to validate the merits of your experience. To try and disagree, feels like your part of the problem that thinks light on depression or mental illness which almost always goes hand to hand with suicide, but depression isn’t as powerful or sexy or thought provoking or as real as suicide. Suicide isn’t a cause or symptom, it is the end. Although, I know you don’t mean to make it seem like you are stronger or more resilient, when you say you are a suicide survivor then those that have passed, but the truth is there will always be an underlining message associated that says this or something similar when you imply that you survived suicide. No one beats death and no one survives suicide.

  4. Gfw says:

    Suicide attempter

  5. David N says:

    it is nice to look at the politically correct/ professional psychologist view.. but.. I have not died from attempts.. honestly we who make it really don’t care about what is traditional.. and
    btw.. EVERY professional I have dealt with over 40years of being a bipolar patient.. have gone with the . IF YOU LIVE AFTER AN ATTEMPT then u survived >>>>>> DUH.. SUICIDE SURVIVOR..

    AS has been my experience,, if you don’t have the illness/es , your degrees on the wall never come close to the understanding of the ones who are in it! … the depth of despair and hopelessness in an attempt is beyond your comprehension .. and the feelings of both failure and gratitude after a failed attempt are unimaginable..
    I am also a life skills coach… interesting profession.. we do are best to listen and learn.. pride n ego not an issue and no chest beating..
    sorry if I am so harsh.. been dealing with ignorance about the stigma . plight and PTSD after attempts too long

    also.. the courage and resource to people in ideation from survivors who share and proudly have a semi’colon.. well , are you going to now correct them and put a patent on ur version of ‘suicide survivor ?

  6. angelina says:

    I have no clue what to call my self, my family or my friends. I don’t think they do either.

    I have attempted suicide (10 years ago) but my family does not know, and i did not need medical help. I have been battling Borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder openly (in degrees of course) for 13 years. I have been in the hospital psychiatric ward multiple times because I have been so past caring that family feared for me, or my self harm has been enough that my family didn’t trust me alone, or I have asked to be admitted because I could not keep myself safe. My actions have had immeasurable impact on my family. They have been horrified, they have been hurt, angry, disappointed, caring, loving, unable to understand how or why. I hate what i have done to them.

    My situation is still the same today. I am not a survivor, I am still trying to get out of the war that is raging constantly in my head. My family is not surviving this, every time i end up in hospital they pull away a little more. I in no way blame them. I am amazed they have stayed for so long. But i think to call us survivors is presumptive that any of us will make it out of this. We are all still embroiled in a fight that we may not win.

    I hope for my family that they get out of this as intact as they can.

    For me, I just want to not have every single day be a war against my own self, against my desire to cut, starve, isolate, numb, or kill myself.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      I hope this reaches you you will have to battle this war everyday but there is hope I have battled for 20 years and still going I want you to know you are not alone

  7. Anonymous says:

    I call myself abstaining suicider, which probably doesn’t translate to English very well. A person, who is performing abstinence from suicide. Suicidal thoughts are never too far from my mind when life gets into a tight spot, but I’ve become excellent in dealing with them (excellent = living on for 25+ years). Being a survivor would mean that something is done, dealt with, over. It’s not. It resurfaces. Therefore, a final-like word cannot capture the reality of my life where keeping on surviving is a process. A process of abstinence from suicide.

  8. anonymous says:

    after my attempt i was traumatized for awhile. i looked online for other people who survived specifically using the words “suicide survivors”. i was disappointed to find that it did not apply to me… im happy to read this entry. i feel validated.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      I am a true suicide survivor I should be dead but I’m not and my purpose on earth is to help people dealing with suicide ,self harm, or bullying leading up to suicide it’s a daily struggle but I promise you this you are not alone I fight everyday that war to stay alive or let it win hope this helps you

  9. Hi, Stacey! I’m coming to this post long after it has been written. Just adding my two cents that I appreciate you taking the time to really detail your thoughts around the changing language related to suicide. It helps me gather and reorganize my own thinking around these experiences in a way that honors everyone involved.

    And, thank you for staying so committed to educating, supporting, and inspiring us by staying engaged with us as we drop in. I appreciate you sharing your resources, your thoughts, and your encouragement 24 hours / day, 7 days / week.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello Tamara,

      Thank you for your kind words of support. I appreciate them, and you!

      The language around suicide is ever changing, and often questionable. Twice this week I’ve come across articles that refer to a person as “the suicide.” If enough people similarly dehumanizing people who die by suicide, I might need to write a blog post about it. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again!

  10. Stacey Duncan says:

    I Totally agree w/ the term sucide loss survivor. I lost my only son almost 9 years ago. Anytime I heard the term suicide survivor I automatically thought of someone who survived an attempt. We need to bring this illness out of the dark ages. I don’t like the term committed suicide either. It makes it sound as if my son committed a crime. He did not!

    • aleia says:

      I agree Stacey Duncan, Your son did not commit a crime. Its language like this that has been keeping this issue in the dark, with such stigma surrounding it. If, we could all open up to the reasons why this happens, maybe instead of numbers going up, as indeed they are, they would, as it would seem in this day and age, to go down.
      nothing much has changed in the 30 plus years, of my attempt, except there seems to be more professionals talking about something, they truly don’t understand. As for people who need to label themselves as the poster who is a self proclaimed ” non labeled person who is related to suicide attempters “. maybe its exactly the way you stated that, that precludes you from having a label.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      Stacey my heart goes out to you I’m sorry for your loss suicide almost ended my life but the lord has other plans for me may I ask you something ? Would you be willing to tell your story ?

  11. Juliet Carr says:

    Thank you for this well researched thoughtful post. I also struggle with the same questions being a non labeled person thus far as I am a person who is related to suicide attempters. http://Www.AttemptedSuicideHelp.com

  12. Jim says:

    Excellent point on the use of common terminology, as a person that has been impacted by the death of my son from “suicide.” I have never thought of myself as a suicide survivor and never liked the term applied to me. Personal choice only. Those who struggle with depressive episodes or ideations of terminating life are the true survivors, I merely grieve the early, untimely death of my son. Jim Younger RN

  13. anon says:

    Without wishing to muddy the waters further – the friends and family of people who have survived a suicide attempt seem to be missing from this discussion. A suicide attempt has an enormous effect on relationships, often changing them forever. Your loved one may blame you for your actions (justifiably or not) for either contributing to the suicide attempt, or from preventing it, or even both. The initial relief at still having your loved one with you may be followed by grief, anger, guilt and fear that it will happen again. The suffering may be less when compared with ‘suicide attempt survivors’ or ‘suicide loss survivors’ but it is nevertheless very real, and it can take a lot of courage to go forward.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anon,” you make excellent points. I think watching someone go through such intense pain that they attempt suicide, along with all the behaviors that the pain can inspire, has to be nerve wracking for friends and family. As you said, a loved one’s suicidal thoughts or suicide attempt can inspire many stressful emotions, as can the person’s reactions to you and what you did or did not do.

      I wonder if you have checked this site’s Resources page for friends and family. It’s a little spare right now; I intend to expand it soon. But in the meantime, there is a booklet put out by the VA for family after a family member’s suicide attempt. The material is applicable to veterans and non-veterans alike. Perhaps it would be helpful to you?

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and for the reminder that everyone matters when it comes to the effects of suicide, attempted suicide, and suicidal thoughts.

  14. Tanya says:

    I am the face of suicide. I am the hurt, the “what’s left,” the broken, shattered, angry, always questioning, guilt ridden, had the wool pulled over my eyes, sad, happy, always looking over my shoulder to make sure siblings are okay, relieved, disgusted, supportive, loving, forever changed, daughter and sister and now wife and mother; that my father left behind. To pick up the pieces of my shattered dreams and hopes and wishes. And to forever live with the truth that he was not truly a proud man. He was a coward. And he was ill, he had to be to do what he did, right? That is what everyone tells me. So what do you call me? Yes I am surviving. Mad as Hell. Living the new life he created for me. That I didn’t want or deserve. Because he chose not to live the life he had. But I am stronger and more loving and patient and kind and always watching and listening – truly listening. And sharing. Because it matters. Everyone matters. And I won’t stop. Loving him, hating him, being sad for him, without him, for him, in spite of him and because of him.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Tanya, your words are beautiful, painful, inspiring, sad, and more – all at once. Thank you for your powerful testament to the face of suicide and its aftermath. I personally don’t agree that having an illness means he was cowardly or not proud, but I understand that you and many other suicide loss survivors experience a wide range of emotions and reactions. The eloquence of your writing and the rawness of your feelings really convey your inner experience. Thank you!

      [Edited on April 22, 2017 – SF]

    • Jim says:

      All true, and this is my oncern for my granddaughter. How do I help her understand the cause and effect had nothing to do with her. Her father wasnt weak, a coward or stupid, but wasn’t able to cope and in a moment of weakness made a poor choice that could not be undone.

    • Diane Maher says:

      Tanya, your words touch my heart, my soul, my very being. I have tried to put into words how I have felt over the past 15 years. Today is the anniversary of my mother’s funeral. She took her life, with a gun, and I have never been the same person ever again. The words you put together express everything I feel from time to time. I can not believe it is 15 years later, and I still am having feelings, emotions, and unrest with my mother’s suicide. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, words and feelings.

    • Daughter says:

      Over a year later, but thank you Tanya for putting into words so many things I cannot. I lost my dad 6 months ago, and it feels like I survive every day without him; not live, but survive without him. I don’t know if I ever get to truly live again, or in time. I feel guilty for when I resent him, and sad when I miss him. No feeling is ever the one that feels right.

      I don’t know what I get to call myself. I don’t know if the word really matters to change how I feel. I do want to to feel acknowledged and validated that my pain is real. I don’t want to claim a term that does not belong to me either.

      For those who have argued that survivor is past tense, I would disagree. We survive daily. It means we simply carry on despite. It means whether loss, attempt or crisis we are all still here trying to figure out how to get through the day.

    • Rage Ryan says:

      Tanya I am sorry for your loss but sometimes suicide gets the best of us it makes us think our family and friends would be better without us or we feel like a total failure to our kids and partner that it pushes us past the safe way to return and sadly it takes our lives for good I hope this helps you and makes your life a little easier

    • Melanie says:

      Tanya, why on earth are you angry with him? Your dad did what he felt he had to do. He was never ever a coward nor selfish.
      Think about it, if you are ill with the flu for example, and all you can think about is going to bed to get rid of the aches, pains and feeling like crap, you would do it as soon as you could to stop feeling that way. Or an even better example, a break up. Your poor dad had feelings a million times worse and you are blaming him. He felt it was best for everyone. I’m sure you have done many selfish things especially in your younger years that at the time you felt was the best thing to do that your family didn’t approve of.
      Make him proud and stop being ashamed. I really hope you don’t suffer in the future like he did, but if you do then you would realise that you are being the stigma to mental illness.
      And before you kick off, both my mother and brother hanged themselves and my grief is in sorrow for how much pain they suffered in this world but happy knowing they are now in peace. I am fighting for the stigma to end. You make me sad and angry.

  15. joyofdogs says:

    Language is important and fluid. I think we need to try to find the most compassionate way to communicate. I personally have stopped using ‘committed suicide’ even though alternative language still seems awkward at times, I think to eliminate the stigma we need to get away from the history of that terminololgy. And when people use it I understand that they may not know or agree with me and that’s okay. I am a suicide awareness advocate, I lost my son, Terry, to suicide on August 21, 2010 and I join many others to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma of mental illness and suicide.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello “joyofdogs” – love that name! – I agree with you. The word “committed” has such negative connotations. I teach social work, and recently I challenged my students to come up with a neutral use of “committed” when it is followed directly by a noun (not a proposition). “Committed to marriage” or “committed to another person” doesn’t work, because of the “to.”

      They could not come up with anything. The other constructions for “committed” are highly negative and stigmatized – committed adultery, committed murder, committed a crime, etc.

      Suicide is not something that someone “commits.” It is something that happens to them because mental illness, stress, trauma or other overwhelming circumstances or emotions overtake them. I write more about this here: Language about Suicide (Part 1): The Power of Words.

      I am so sorry about the loss of your son Terry. Thank you for advocating for the prevention of suicide, and for sharing your insights here.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic post. I think that labeling a grieving family member or friend as a “suicide survivor” is not accurate at all. I much prefer the term “suicide loss survivor.” My grandmother died from cancer, but I don’t call myself a cancer survivor. The words we use do make a difference because they shape our beliefs. One of my dearest friends is a suicide loss survivor and it is very important to define it that way because surviving loss from a loved one’s suicide can be very, very difficult. It is devastating. On the other hand, I am a suicide survivor. I truly did survive a suicidal attempt. I also think that by not making this distinction between the person who is/was suicidal and surviving friends and family is to literally erase the experiences of those who do survive and have so much to teach us all. There is so much misinformation out there about suicide and mental illness that it serves no one to ignore the amazing group of individuals who survive suicide. Just like with cancer survivors, we should all look at their experience and ask, “What can we learn from this?”

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” thanks for sharing. I think your words will mean a great deal to many people who feel the same way, especially survivors of a suicidal crisis – people I want to call “suicide survivors” but still hesitate to do so, for the reasons above. But…you make an excellent point about how we don’t call the people “cancer survivors” if they lose a loved one to cancer. That’s one more reason for me to not use the phrase “suicide survivor” on this site.

      You are not alone in thinking that we need to be careful not to “erase the experiences of those who do survive and have so much to teach us.” The major suicide prevention organizations in the U.S., the American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, have both incorporated the voices of attempt survivors recently. May that continue!

      Thanks for sharing, and I’m grateful you survived!

  17. nikky44 says:

    I love the explanation. In fact, it’s something I have thought about a lot lately. I felt invisible, ignored, not understood, and that hurts. I have had suicidal thoughts/plans for years. I survived war, sexual abuse, 18 years of conjugal violence. I fought the thoughts really hard. I run away lately, abandoned everything, family, job, home, my country and all my life. I did it to protect myself and my children. When I ask for help feeling suicidal, no one can understand. They think I’m looking for attention because a suicidal person doesn’t try this hard to improve her life. During a severe crisis, I called a crisis center to get help. I was “interviewed” about my thoughts. I said I had the pills in hand, the answer was: If you didn’t take them yet, it means you won’t do it.
    Suicide is not a game, it’s not a joke, it’s not to get attention. It is real, and fighting it is so hard, but doing it without help and support is impossible.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Nikky, how devastating to not be taken seriously by a crisis center. It sounds like many people have not seen you and your pain. I’m sorry for all you have gone through. You are absolutely right people needing to take suicide seriously. I’ve written a little about that here in my post Is a Suicide Attempt a Cry for Help?

      Please don’t give up. There is good help out there. Have you seen the Resources page on this site for people who are thinking of suicide? You can find it at http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

      Thanks for sharing! As another person wrote in a comment here, we have a lot to learn from you and others who have lived through the suicidal experience or are living through it, still.

  18. Stacey, I think you’re on the right track, for all of the reasons you’ve stated. We know that language matters, and that’s one strong reason that many of us have tried for years to have “committed suicide” removed from the common language around those who died of suicide, stemming, as it does, from the times when suicide was universally deemed a crime. (Which is still is in some areas of the world.) I have had trouble with “suicide survivor” for those who are bereaved because it changes the more universal understanding of the term (cancer survivor, Holocaust survivor, etc.); because it doesn’t permit useful terminology for someone who attempts suicide but survives (suicide attempt survivor works better, I think); and because I have difficulty thinking of myself as a “suicide survivor” of my friend Vince’s suicide death. It feels like that term is more reserved for folk closer, like family. I am, however, bereaved by Vince’s death by hanging, and will be for my lifetime.

  19. pamjarrett says:

    Try a third category–people who have done more than just “think” about suicide and who have attempted it in families where multiple other people have succeeded in committing suicide. Instead of us all getting caught up in labels or being angry because our needs aren’t being met or recognized, just realize that EVERYONE is hurting, and act with compassion. Start with listening and not getting defensive.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Pam, you’re right – two categories is sort of an artificial division. Certainly people who survive a suicidal crisis might also have lost a loved one to suicide, and vice versa. So there is overlap in the categories of suicide attempt survivor and suicide loss survivor. On top of that, as you note, there are families with multiple suicide losses, and I’m sure there are more categories out there, too.

      What an important truth: “EVERYONE is hurting, and act with compassion.” The world would be a much better place if more people embraced this truth.

      Thanks for sharing your insights.

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