Language about Suicide (Part 2): Who are Suicide Survivors?

UPDATE May 27, 2014: I have updated this post, to say that I no longer agree with the definitions below. Please see the post, “Wait, Who Is a Suicide Survivor Again?” I am leaving this post up because I’m told by bloggers far more experienced than I that you should never remove a post, only update it. – SF

Suicide means to die a self-inflicted death, so how can anybody be called a survivor of suicide?

Of course, nobody survives their own death. 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 ….”

The person who died by suicide is gone. Those who remain are survivors.

But Wait – What About People who Survive a Suicide Attempt?

In recent years, more and more people who have attempted suicide and survived have shared their stories publicly.  They often are referred to as “suicide survivors,” which can get more than a little confusing.

Suicide Survivor vs. Suicide Attempt Survivor

It helps to keep in mind that there are two types of survivors – people who survive the suicide of a loved one, and people who survive a suicide attempt. So, more accurately, somebody who attempts suicide and lives to tell about is a suicide attempt survivor, not a suicide survivor.

For More Information

As this site develops, I will write more about suicide survivors and about suicide attempt survivors. In the meantime, I have listed some good resources below.

For more information for and about survivors of suicide, check out these sites:

For more information for and about survivors of suicide attempts, this pioneering site is excellent:

© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All Rights Reserved, Written for Photos purchased from

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

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  1. Con says:

    Very clear, very helpful and useful.
    Thank you for creating this site.

  2. Martin says:

    I attempted suicide a few months ago nobody can stop your own wishes to end life. After the experience I must say that I am now getting to a better place. what you can do is cancel suicide hard as it sounds it’s still your choice but cancel it for now talk to people it is not a stigma suicide is an emotion when you feel that life is no longer for you but it is you are loved so cancel suicide I am still here and making a difference to life a survivor of that dark place

  3. I don’t think this is quite right. “Suicide survivor” is a confusing phrase, yes, and we should do away with it. Prior to about three years ago, there was barely even language acknowledging attempt survivors. Now there is, and for the sake of clarity, many of us who are working in awareness and prevention are now using language that helps with clarity: “loss survivors” and “attempt survivors.” We are ALL survivors of this thing.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hello Dese’Rae L. Stage, first let me say how honored I am to see you here and to read your feedback. I have visited your site often and intend to write about it here at some point, hopefully soon. The portraits that you have taken of suicide attempt survivors, and the personal accounts accompanying them, are beautiful, moving, and inspirational all at once.

      The timing of your comment above is uncanny. After many discussions with others about the “suicide survivor” term, I have been crafting a new post about terminology around survivorship. I have come to the same conclusion as you – that there are suicide attempt survivors and suicide loss survivors. Just as it is taking a long time for people to transition to saying “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide,” I think it will take a long time for this change to take effect out in the world. So many books, organizations, and activities already incorporate the term “suicide survivor” that the task of dropping the term is formidable. It may never happen, but at least people can be more mindful of what terms they use and how.

      I will do my small part and, with the publishing of the new post, I will change my language on this site. I hope you will stay tuned and drop by again!

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