Language Matters: Committed Suicide vs. Completed Suicide vs. Died by Suicide

Written by on September 21, 2017 in All Posts, Misc, Suicide, Terminology with 130 Comments

People in the suicide prevention field discourage the use of the term “committed suicide.” The verb “commit” (when followed by an act) is generally reserved for actions that many people view as sinful or immoral. Someone commits burglary, or murder, or rape, or perjury, or adultery, or crime – or something else bad.

Suicide itself might be bad, yes, but the person who dies by suicide is not committing a crime or sin. Rather, the act of suicide almost always is the product of mental illness, intolerable stress, pain, or trauma.

To portray suicide as a crime or sin stigmatizes those who experience suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. This stigma, in turn, can deter people from seeking help from friends, family, and professionals.

As Susan Beaton and colleagues note in their article, “Suicide and Language: Why We Shouldn’t Use the ‘C’ Word”:

“Suicide is not a sin and is no longer a crime, so we should stop saying that people ‘commit’ suicide. We now live in a time when we seek to understand people who experience suicidal ideation, behaviours and attempts, and to treat them with compassion rather than condemn them.”

“Completed Suicide” vs. “Died by Suicide”

Warning: I am a word geek. I love language, and I also love discussing its intricacies. Some will deride this discussion of suicide terminology as political correctness gone awry. But language has power. If changing our language can help suicidal people to feel safer asking for help, then changing language can save lives. 

With that said, I prefer the term “died by suicide” because it avoids the judgmental connotations of “committed suicide.” 

Some people advocate for using the term “completed suicide” instead. I urge people not to use the term “completed” suicide. I explained my objections to the term in this post, and they bear repeating.

What’s Wrong with the Term “Completed Suicide”

Think of the sense of accomplishment you feel when you complete a big project. Then think of the disappointment you feel when you don’t.

Completion is good. Dying prematurely is usually a tragedy.

To complete something conveys success; to leave something incomplete conveys failure. In fact, at universities, if a student receives an “incomplete” in a class and doesn’t complete their remaining requirements on time, the “I” converts to an “F.”

Some suicide prevention advocates use the term “completed suicide” because they view it as an acceptable alternative to “committed suicide.” Not all suicide prevention advocates agree, of course. The State of Maine’s Suicide Prevention Program, for example, states on its website, “Both terms (committed and completed) perpetuate the stigma associated with suicide and are strongly discouraged.”

The term “completed suicide” is especially popular among academics. A search on Google Scholar yields 470 articles where “completed suicide” is used in the title. Here are just a few examples:

Those examples actually bring me to a different complaint about the term “completed suicide.” When “completed” is used as an adjective for suicide (instead of a verb), it is redundant.

Characteristics of completed suicides = characteristics of suicides.

Risk of completed suicide = risk of suicide.

Subsequent completed suicide = subsequent suicide.

Completed suicide is suicide. Why not just say “suicide,” then?

More about the Term “Died by Suicide”

The Associated Press dictates the standards for appropriate language in most mainstream newspapers and magazines (but not academic journals). The AP changed its style book recently to discourage the use of the phrase “committed suicide.” Instead, it recommends alternative terms like “killed himself,” “took her life,” and “died by suicide.”

I have no objections to any of these terms. As a direct substitute for “committed suicide,” I prefer “died by suicide.” I’ve heard only a couple complaints about this term, and none is that it perpetuates stigma against people who die by suicide, as the term “committed suicide” does, or that it portrays the act of suicide as an accomplishment, as the term “completed suicide” does.

The first complaint is that “died by suicide” is a little clunky. Usually, we say somebody died of something (like, “she died of cancer”) not by something. Suicide is different, I guess, because the term “died by her own hand” also is in the vernacular.

The second complaint I’ve heard from folks, especially my students, is that “died by suicide” is an unfamiliar term and hard to get used to using. It doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Over time, the more you substitute the term “died by suicide,” the more natural it becomes. Likewise, over time, the more you say “died by suicide,” the more the term “committed suicide” will hurt your ears.

And if you’re like me, “completed suicide” will hurt your ears even worse. So please, I urge you, say something else.


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.

Copyright 2017 by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. Written for All Rights Reserved. Photos purchased from

Want to join the conversation?


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

130 Reader Comments

Trackback URL Comments RSS Feed

  1. Billy says:

    The starting point of any conversation regarding “words” is the word’s etymology.

    “Suicide” is borne from Latin — “sui” related to one’s self; cide related to killer.

    The word is related to homicide (homo being the root); matricide (matre being the root); fratricide; patricide; etc.

    By this, in Latin, the prefix describes that upon which the killer (cide) acts — self (sui); homo (self or man); matri (mother); fratre (brother, e.g., fraternal); patri (father, e.g., paternal).

    Thus, one cannot “complete” any one of these. Either he commits a “cide” or he attempts a “cide.”

    A “suicide” is a death committed by a killer (cide) against himself (sui).

    • John Bradfield says:

      It can be revealing to check the etymology of words. However, meanings are not fixed in tablets of stone but if used as though they are, they do not have to be imposed in harmful ways.

      An example of a word which has always annoyed me is homophobia, because the suffix means fear. I personally have a resistance to that relatively new change in meaning. I would prefer a suffix which means a failure to understand, hostility or hate which results in harm. An accurate suffix could help gain a more accurate understanding of what is happening and why.

      Regarding the meaning of suicide, I’ve no issue with referring to those who are suicidal but will not use the moralising notion of committed in conjunction with it.

      I’m sure to have mentioned previously, that persisting with a judgmental attitude can be very damaging in the short and long term, especially to young children whose parents have taken their own lives.

      I’m also sure no reasonable person, would defend a rigid perspective on etymology and the use of words, which is likely to harm children in a way which is entirely avoidable. This is about psychology and values but what isn’t?

    • Erin Martin says:

      Interesting as the etymology may be, it is of no help to those who are in a suicidal frame of mind. Or to those of us who have endured the loss of loved ones due to suicide. In my own case that is my mother and two siblings.
      As has already been argued it is the association with CRIME and SIN which is offensive and stigmatising, and hurtful and OUTDATED. Would you rather be right or kind is the real question here.

      • John Bradfield says:

        I have to agree with you Erin but who wouldn’t? However, I’m sure you will agree, that a person cannot be right if they are being unkind to those living with the consequences of bereavements, especially those which are traumatic. It cannot be ethical to knowingly use language, which can cause harm or make existing harm even worse. It may be that knowingly doing so in connection with bereavements, is a long established common law offence, which is punishable.

  2. AB says:

    The author writes, “Completion is good, and suicide isn’t.” There’s a gaping problem here–and it’s one that spans nearly the entirety of Western “mental health” and far too much of psychology. That’s the articulation of personal values as if they were proven objective facts. Granted, the majority in Western health care share the opinion that death is bad. We do everything feasible, with financial constraints, to keep people alive as long as possible–regardless the quality of their lives as they themselves see it. It’s only lately that medicine is beginning to embrace the entitlement of a few patients to decide they don’t want to be kept alive anymore.

    The author makes an argument based on her personal values as if these were universal and objective. They’re not. At best, they’re common–and polls in the US and Europe show this common sentiment rapidly declining. I don’t mean to insult the author or others who hold her opinion, but you cannot TELL people that what they feel or conclude (about the abstractions of their own lives) is either wrong or bad simply because other people feel differently about these things. While I’d agree the suffering leading some people to suicide is “bad,” no historic or modern scholar has ever shown there to be any such thing as objective bad or good, let alone answer the ancient question of life’s value or meaning. Absent proof to the contrary, an argument that feeling a certain way or deciding to do something with one’s own life is “bad” is unconvincing–especially to those who already feel that way or who want to do with their lives what they reason is best for them.

    I’m not suggesting anyone [use verb of your choice here] suicide. And I’m sure the author means well. But suicide research and interventions aren’t likely to help those who most need help if these are couched in vague, moralistic language like “good” and “bad.” Especially if, as a robust body of research suggests, the environmental conditions leading people to suicide persist or worsen. While the common retort here is that many who were once suicidal express gratitude for having been found out and stopped, this still doesn’t address the fundamental question of what is “bad” about not being present to experience anything–including pain. And there are many statistical reasons drawing conclusions about most suicidals based on claims of suicide attempt survivors likely obscures the truth. Certainly, help people who ask for and want help. But please also entitle people who consistently express that they don’t find the help available in our culture helpful the liberties to decide what their own quality of life is and to make ultimate decisions for themselves. Best to all.

    • John Bradfield says:

      Although Stacey Freedenthal does say that suicide is “bad”, I very much doubt that she sees all suicides as being that simple. I’ve never yet heard of anyone referring to any suicide as “good” and I note that AB does not go that far.

      I doubt that AB would consider it responsible and respectful, to stand back and leave young parents to needlessly end their own lives, leaving infants, young children and young adults to cope with what can be the devastating and medium or long terms impacts of traumatic bereavements.

      Whatever modern philosophers or other scholars may have said about good, bad, the meaning we give to life or anything else, may not help with the need for down-to-earth decision making, the need to act sensitively, in good faith and so on.

      In western societies, we have the legal right to refuse medical treatments, which could save our lives, whether we would continue living for short or long periods of time. Those decisions mean we opt to end our lives sooner rather than later. In that context we tend not to see “death as bad”. We see it as inevitable but still offering to prevent or minimise avoidable pain and distress. For some, euthanasia or lawfully sanctioned assisted suicide is increasingly seen as a option.

      I have no hesitation in saying I base my actions on attempting to prevent and stop cruelty and other intense physical and/or emotional pain, social injustice and so on.

      We all act according to “personal values” and shared principles in both paid and unpaid work. They are never fixed in stone and are continually evolving. What matters is to be open and honest about those, so we can point anyone to other sources of help, which are as close as possible to the way they make sense of their world, their beliefs, values and norms.

      Regarding, “you cannot TELL people that what they feel or conclude … is either wrong or bad simply because other people feel differently about these things”, what matters is understanding how we have come to make sense of our experiences and having choices when we are desperate for help.

      I agree with Zee that most people then need “help without being judged”. However, when EXCEPTIONALLY RARELY someone who is feeling suicidal is harming others, (e.g. through emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse), that has to be acknowledged, stopped and prevented. That can usually be achieved by exploring reasons for each specific behaviour, without condemning the perpetrator as being a “bad” person in every way. Hope and progress come out of building on everything which is good.

      When “environmental conditions … persist or worsen” which can predictably result in suicides, those need to be tackled with urgency, especially when they are tangible and easy to identify and measure. I’m sure I’ve not read of anyone attempting to argue that those should be ignored or are irrelevant.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


        Thanks for your supportive comments. You are correct, I don’t see all suicides as being so simple. I have modified my post a little to avoid the appearance of oversimplifying; I describe the changes in my comment above.

        You raise many good points in your comment. Even if the person who dies by suicide sees their act as “good,” the person’s children, parents, friends, and other loved ones likely view the loss of the person they love as tragic, painful, and … well … bad. And the person who dies by suicide certainly wouldn’t see the circumstances that led up to their decision as good. If they were happy with their circumstances, they wouldn’t be ending their life!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. These are good points, and I’ve modified the post somewhat to allow for the complexities of the topic. Where I said “Completion is good, and suicide isn’t,” I wrote, “Completion is good. Dying prematurely is usually a tragedy.” (“Usually,” because even many people passionate about suicide prevention see the value of assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness.) And where I said “suicide is bad,” I changed it to “Suicide might be bad.”

      I do think it’s not as simple as suicide being bad or good, but I also think we can all universally agree that thinking about suicide, attempting suicide, or dying by suicide doesn’t mean a person is bad or good. Hence, the need to change our language about suicide.

  3. Philosophia says:

    Time and again book titles continue to use labels such as “suicidal person” rather than focus on behavior “person who is suicidal” even from the very persons who educate the public on “language matters”… “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,”

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Good point. I’ve struggled with this issue of language. I think maybe it’s a matter of expediency vs. harm. The word “suicidal” isn’t ideal, because it’s not person-first language. But it’s also so clunky to say “Helping the Person who Thinks about or Attempts Suicide.” I have a new book under contract and I expect to avoid the term “suicidal person” in the title.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree with using the wording, died by suicide. I know that wording means everything to the loved ones of the person that is dead.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Hmm, I detect some irony there. No, the wording doesn’t mean everything to the loved ones, but I’ve heard from many survivors of suicide loss that the phrase “commit suicide” is hurtful to them. If it helps even a little to use a different set of words, why not use it?

  5. Zee says:

    I find it really upsetting at times when many advocates what to change or read more into issues so it feels better to people. Suicide is death. The person who goes down that painful path of thinking of suicide is not stuck on the wording except I am hurting and can’t figure this out. The real issue is changing society perception of mental health so people can finally get help without being judged. Stop trying to make yourself feel good about a person deciding that life is too painful to deal with. I prefer died by suicide because that is the reality. I do not see the word committed as offence because that word does not only apply to something negative. Committed to me means the person did what they planned to do-they were committed to ending the pain. The work complete also means the accomplish what they set out to do and that is end the pain via suicide. let’s stop making people feel comfortable at other expense. Suicide is painful and it hurts family, friend, and community. it is the final act of a mental heath issue.

  6. Bozeas says:

    Personally, I just say “they killed themselves.” That gets the concept across without shaming them.

  7. John Bradfield says:

    For the avoidance of doubt by, “What punishment should they have to face?” I mean the tormentor, unwitting and otherwise, who could be a serious and long term threat to the health and wellbeing of acutely vulnerable children and adults., following suicides and many other dire circumstances.

    Inflicting our own harmful views in ‘therapeutic’ situations, must be prohibited and urgently stopped when it exists.

    That includes a need to satisfy our own determination to avoid so-called political correctness. Referring to “PC” is often a lazy attempt to avoid critical analysis and used like waving a magic wand, to close down analysis and impose an unrecognised dogma.

    In health and welfare settings, it is crucial to identify, permanently remove and punish, staff who are causing subtle and stark emotional abuse of acutely vulnerable children and adults.

    When responding to their desperate needs, self gratification because of religious, philosophical, political or other beliefs, cannot be a legal or psychological justification for inflicting unintentional torment.

    That could easily become a slippery slope to torture, resulting in investigations and prosecutions many years later. The reason why such scandals keep being exposed, is because they were not nipped in the bud and were left to spiral out of control.

    It is essential to recognise the dangers in the early and very subtle stages. The danger signs are often in the attitudes, beliefs and values of new students and unqualified staff with their feet on the first rung of a career ladder and that is the time to stop them. It is a difficult action to take but easier than having to deal with abuse and scandals.

    As previously mentioned, I speak not as an armchair theorist but a former tutor, continuing practitioner (unpaid) and relentless whistleblower, who has acted to prevent and stop various types of serious abuse and had to resort to courts and tribunals.

  8. John Bradfield says:

    For the avoidance of doubt, are you are telling me, that it is the right and proper thing to do, when helping bereaved young children,
    who are bereft by the suicide of a parent, other close relative or a friend, that the reason for their pain, is because the person they miss so much was a heartless criminal? Me thinks that the true criminal would be the tormentor. What punishment should they have to face? In what subject do you hope to graduate and would you be safe working with vulnerable children and adults?

    • John Pollard says:

      The best thing in the world for bereaved young children is to hear the truth. Telling them things that are untrue will lead to their not trusting your word in the future. Telling them that their parent was a heartless criminal has (in my opinion) no positive benefit – you are basically telling them that they are the children of a criminal – how is that supposed to make them feel?

      What punishment would we recommend for the person who has taken their own life?

      My perspective on this is incredibly eastern and would not likely be accepted by most people in the west. I believe that every person is on a journey that encompasses many lifetimes. In that eastern perspective it is believed that those who take their own lives will have their lives taken from them in a future lifetime. In that perspective everyone eventually reaps what they sow.

  9. Joel says:

    Ugh… going through this in graduate school. I was corrected for using commit, and was told to use the term complete. Well, sorry I will not! In my mind, the person has infact committed a crime. They have selfishly left spouses, children, parents behind to fend for themselves while living a life time of pain. So yes, they are criminal and trust me, they will never be offended with what ever terminology we use. We need to stop with the PC, BS, become big boys and girls and tell it how it is.

    • John Pollard says:

      Joel I agree with you on the statement that people commit suicide. I think that the PC need to avoid the honest truth makes very little sense. I disagree with the notion that people who commit suicide have committed a crime. Committing a crime comes with the possibility of being punished for the action committed. A person who commits suicide can’t be punished for their action, except to the extend that their committing suicide robs them of their lives – they have punished themselves by their action. One could invoke a deity and have the belief that those who commit suicide will suffer some punishment at the hands of such a deity , but then one has to involve religion and their is no end to that argument.

    • AB says:

      @Joel When you said you’re “going through this in school,” do you mean in preparation to become a mental health care provider? Thanks for sharing, if you’re still reading these comments.

  10. John Bradfield says:

    Dear Linda and Tom,

    I am responding to your separate posts of the 11th August 2019. For reasons unknown, the dates of posts as displayed on my computer in the UK are not in date order, so it is hard to see a coherent flow to the discussion.

    Long ago, sociologists identified different types of suicide or rather different reasons for suicides. One of those was altruistic, e.g. during a shortage of food, children being fed and the oldest adults opting to die. At the other extreme, as one of you has mentioned, are mass murderers who take their own lives to escape the consequences.

    As far as I am aware, all or virtually all posts are not about extremes but ordinary people who are or were living ordinary lives, who are or were struggling with strong suicidal urges.

    I am sure that if armchair critics had to meet face-to-face with the vast majority of those, they would not be confronted with deeply hurtful language or judgmental lectures. Bad lecturers use their own language and may entertain even though they do not educate, good teachers adapt their language to maximise learning and good ‘therapists’ shape their language to maximise health benefits.

    When entirely unnecessary, insensitive language could amount to psychological violence. There is no evidence that I know of, which proves that psychological violence solves most mental anguish or most crimes.

    A nuanced notion of having “committed” suicide, comes with historical baggage. The families of those who suffered bereavements following suicides, had their homes and possessions taken from them and were made destitute.

    In more recent times up until 1961 in the UK., most of those who made attempts to end their own lives, woke up in a hospital with a police officer nearby, ready to prosecute them.

    The good old days did not have solutions for preventing suicides.

    For pointers to some researched prevention methods, see the TV documentary mentioned in my 23rd May 2019 post.

    As for “committing” people to institutions, that was often criminal for reasons of corruption, fraud and political flavour of the century.

    Women were locked away for disobeying men but they were not locked away for disobeying women. Only women were locked away for having babies outside marriage. Ignoring clear criminality, even though more than 50% of the fathers may have been responsible for the babies, only the mothers were locked away.

    Criminals faced juries and had fixed term jail sentences. Those “committed” to institutions had no such luxuries. I discovered a man long locked in a hospital ward, with an effective life sentence. He was supposedly mentally ill and violent. However, medical staff did not tell me that every week for many years, he had been going unaccompanied to a social club in the local town. He annually went on holiday with club members and would go off on his own with some of their children. He had no record of mental illness or violence before being locked away and his medical records made no mention of mental illness or violence. He had been “committed” by the police, for stealing a pint of milk off a doorstep, due to hunger and homelessness.

    Situations like those were typical of people who had been “committed”.

    Yes Linda, you had a “very romantic” notion of suicide because it had nothing to do with real people and real experiences. Having the “Riot Act” read to you, changed you “on the spot”. However, I am sure you do not believe for a moment, that having it read to you again, would relieve you of the weight of anger which shines through your post. Incidentally, celebrate your name which derives from Lind, the small-leaved lime tree, which is mostly confined the oldest and most precious woodlands in the UK.. Lind is connected with every Latin name given to all life on earth, because of how Carl Linnaeus came to get his last name.

  11. Linda says:

    What’s next, destigmatize murder or pedophilia because calling it a crime or a sin deters people from getting help for their compulsions? Come to think of it, suicide is self murder. Must we accomadate every behavior no matter how destructive the behavior is. As a young girl I thought suicide was very romantic and even noble after watching Hollywood’s movie, Romeo and Juliet. That is until my mother got wind of the ridiculousness, sat me down and read me the riot act and stated there is no excuse and no reason ever for suicide. Life is too precious. Changed me on the spot. I can’t get over how convulted,how sick our reasoning has become in this culture.
    There was a time in China when crime was extremely rare . Families were shunned and greatly shamed if a member of their family broke a law. Families disowned family members and had nothing to do with those who selfishly brought them shame. The result was there was basically no murder, theft etc.
    Accomodate it and incidents will soar. No doubt in our society many will say that is just fine. Sick.

  12. owen barnett says:

    We don’t have a suicide unless someone discovers the body.The impact that can have is to create a new victim,be it a family member or members of the public if the suicide for example is carried out on a Hwy or Park.Sadly the rate of suicide has skyrocketed,at the same time authors such as Stacey are getting at the core root of the problem by playing round with words they find distasteful.My point is people learn about mental illness , learn about depression, learn about what makes people take their own lives.Dont waste your time playing with words,with a suicide rate that’s rising sky high at the same time.

  13. Shelley Latin says:

    You state that suicide is not a crime or a sin. Still, you say suicide is “bad.” It’s the same as sin – it’s making a moral judgment. Suicide is not always bad.

  14. B says:

    Death by suicide would fit better. Such as her death was caused by suicide plus death by suicide in its own talks about the state of being dead as it is one of the definitions for it. Hence why asking what someone died from such as “How did they die?” “Their death was suicide” or “Death by suicide” I’ve been lucky not to have anyone I know dear to me kill themselves with the intent of it. But, I have been affected by it in recent years as I had someone close to me who really thought about doing it. Not to mention I’ve thought about it multiple times myself due to mental issues. It’s not pretty and it’s not something to easily walk away from.

  15. Tonya Taylor says:

    I am very happy to take this course about Suicide, this is a deadly disease that has affected millions of people around the world. To be able to start learning new terms is the beginning of learning about Suicide.

  16. John Bradfield says:

    Re. my 16th March post, it looks as though I will not be receiving a reply from Charles Raison, the USA psychiatrist cum psychotherapist who in 2012 , was still referring to committing suicide. Very recently, Shirley Umphries informed us that her son “took his own life” and those four words convey a crucial fact, without jarring sensibilities. She fully endorses Stacey Freedenthal’s reasoning against the notion of “completing” suicide. Who could disagree with her conclusion, not least as that notion feels uncomfortably contrived? I recently discovered that in 2010, “committing suicide” was inadvertently added to existing laws on crimes in the United Kingdom (UK). I have drawn that error to the attention of national politicians. They have called for a correction to be made in part because, “As legislators, we should lead by example” on the use of language. A very thought-provoking, powerful and sensitive TV documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation has been shown a few times in the last year. It is entitled ‘Stopping Male Suicide’ and presented by Dr. Xand (Alexander) Tulleken. Two points in particular demand close attention. The first, is that the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit has an approach to suicide, which reduced the rate by 80% and in one year it had none. The second, is that in the Florida State University, Dr Joseph Franklin claims to have developed technology which can predict with an accuracy of 90%, a few years before they happen, attempts at suicide and deaths from suicide. He and his colleagues claim, “if we are to make progress, we must radically change how we think about, study, and apply knowledge” about psychological problems. The TV documentary can be found via

  17. Shirley Umphries says:

    I am in total agreement.My son took his own life 21 months ago.He didn’t commit anything,he took his own life.I’ve corrected anyone that uses that terminology,including my grief counselor.Thank you for the education,and I think ,over time, we can change the language.

  18. Tanya says:

    Excellent article. I am a trainer in suicide prevention techniques and couldn’t agree more that the language definitely matters.

  19. Rosemarie Fike says:

    I am so happy there is a place to go here on facebook, 38 years ago no, except telling my friends and neighbors till they were sick of me, I just couldn’t get it out of my system. It does get less as years go by, u have to go on, enjoy your friends and family, even if you’re a 5th wheel. Let yourself move on and be happy.

  20. John Pollard says:

    I agree with John Bradfield that suicide is a life and death issue that transcends “armchair pedantry without thought for it’s potential consequences”. I also believe that criminalizing suicide by common law or by statute is absurd. Every crime has a commensurate punishment – if you jay walk you will get fined. If you rob a bank you will likely get sent to jail. Unless you invoke religion what punishment can anyone impose upon the person who commits suicide? Any common law or statutory punishment is moot. The person who takes their own life or who commits suicide punishes not only themselves, but all who are affected by their action in the same fashion that every action which we take affects ourselves and potentially those around us. If you place suicide into the realm of religion then you enter into an area which has to be interpreted through the prism of that religion. One then has to take into account the notion that it is “my religion and your philosophy”. You then end up going down a rabbit hole where at one extreme (perhaps certain Christian sects) the thought of committing suicide is anathema to one’s religious notions and on the other extreme of Zen Buddhism where one is encouraged to simply observe thoughts as they arise and pass away without developing an attachment to them. I maintain my original idea that suicide is a willful act. I believe that laws against suicide, common law or otherwise are simply absurd. I also believe that the semantics involving suicide should not be used to promulgate the notion that suicide is imposed upon someone. I agree with the fact that mental states can predispose individuals to commit suicide, but I stand by the notion that those individuals commit that action.

    • John Pollard says:

      I would add to my last post that I am aware that civil penalties can have the potential effect of dissuading people from attempting to commit suicide and that religious considerations can have the same effect – my argument concerns those who successfully carry the action to completion.

  21. John Bradfield says:

    I have just posted a reply to John Pollard. I research and write on law relating to bereavements, to empower those struggling with the impacts of deaths, so I’d be grateful if Mo and anyone else could display hard evidence of suicide being a common law crime in any state in the USA.. The fact that it was decriminalised by statute law in the UK in 1961, means that it abolished both the statutory and common law offence. So, the fact that the common law offence may have been created by judges through legal precedents in some distant century, doesn’t mean that it survives indefinitely. New legal precedents and statute law can end common law offences.

  22. John Bradfield says:

    The grammar of language is one thing the psychology another. When language is grammatically correct but insults, stigmatizes, perpetuates, reinforces and fails to understand the intensity of distress and may prevent very desperate people seeking help from relatives, friends and others, the last thing they need and the last thing we should be giving them, is lectures on grammar. I have worked with many struggling with suicidal urges, have had responsibility for hospital detentions but never used that power, ensuring instead, that they received sensitised help, from all in a position to give that help. Some did take their own lives and more might have done so, if they had been subjected to talk of committing suicide. The issue, first and foremost, is one of life and death, not one for the luxury of armchair pedantry without thought for its potential consequences.

  23. John Pollard says:

    People commit to things people commit actions. There is nothing inherently wrong with committing to something or committing an act. I can commit to exercising on a regular basis. I can commit the act of brushing my teeth. There is no “sin” or “stigma” to be attached to either of those acts. People commit murder as a conscious willful act. People commit to a marriage as a conscious willful act. People commit suicide as a conscious willful act. A person in a moment of rage can commit the murder of another individual – does that mean that the person committing the murder is mentally ill? (one could make such an argument). A person can commit suicide due to the effects of a profound depressive episode. When the great depression occurred some people committed suicide because they lost all of their money. Some people have committed suicide because they were accused of crimes that humiliated or embarrassed them. Some people who commit suicide are genuinely mentally ill and their mental illness profoundly affects their choice to do so, but many other people commit suicide for reasons that have nothing to do with any type of mental illness.

  24. Mo says:

    Wrong! Many believe that killing oneself IS indeed a sin. In many U.S. states, suicide is still a common-law crime, and anyone who attempts suicide could be prosecuted (though this is rare). Suicide is also a crime in other countries as well. Therefore, there is nothing semantically or logically incorrect is saying that someone committed suicide. But you could also just use plain English and say that the individual killed himself (or herself).

  25. KSE says:

    When it is necessary to clarify , I state that my son “ died by his own hand” . I have never used the other phrases. When informing my family the night it happened, I said he “ killed himself” 😔

  26. John Bradfield says:

    I was surprised to read a 2012 article by a psychiatrist cum psychotherapist in the USA., referring to “committed suicide”. I have written to ask them if it is still a crime in any part of the USA.. In the United Kingdom, it ceased being so in 1961 and language has long been sensitised as a result. I have long avoided whenever possible, any mention of suicide. I prefer to say a person took their own life, not least as that is more likely to stir empathic questions and thoughts, to try and gain a sensitive understanding.

  27. Tris Holaway says:

    I agree with your stance and actually will change my vernacular to “died of suicide”; however, I noticed this “Completion is good, and suicide isn’t.” I would have rathered read the words “most completions are about something good and suicide is always about incompletions, whether good or bad”.

  28. Lou says:

    Thank you for this. I am not comfortable at all with “completed” or “committed” and I appreciate your efforts to educate people about how problematic they are. When I am asked how my daughter died, I will sometimes say that she died from suicidal depression. I realize that that doesn’t cover all such deaths, but it’s the clearest that I’ve been able to come up with that puts what her situation in the clearest context.

  29. Anonymous says:

    What about someone was a victim of suicide?

  30. Leone says:

    when I speak of my son I say “he chose to exit” .. it works for me .. I sometimes get weird looks but that’s fine .. we are all weird in our own special way!

  31. Jori says:

    My understanding is that most of those scholarly articles are distinguishing between suicides attempts versus suicides that resulted in death. I mean, I agree with you, I’m just saying that is the juxtaposition. I myself am very in favor of using the term “mortality rate of mental illness.”

  32. Shanon Oldeman says:


  33. MelH says:

    People commit to each other when getting married. I’ve committed to jobs when I accepted some temp job that was to last x amount of time. People get wrapped up in minute stuff and it weighs on them. And we all know one thing too much such ‘weight’ can lead to (suicide). I don’t agree there’s anything wrong with ‘committed suicide.’

  34. Andy Schotz says:

    Maryland is considering a bill to decriminalize the act of suicide. There have been 10 instances in the last five years in which an attempted suicide was prosecuted.

  35. karen george says:

    Wow ! Powerful articles. I had never given a thought to the emotional effect of these words in describing these personal events. I feel that this is something everyone needs to read. It makes perfect sense to me. Words matter. Do families have a say in how suicide is reported or communicated in regard to their loved ones.?

  36. Peter says:

    I agree, commit suicide is for when it was a crime.
    Can we not use “suicided”?
    Is there such a word? Appears to be different thought on this.

  37. Erin Martin says:

    Thank you for this site and in particular the article on language and its importance.
    There is a history of suicide in my birth family and I have lost my mother and siblings this way. I hear people use the term ‘committed suicide” a lot. And just yesterday, talking with a psychotherapist was shocked when he repeated this several times.
    A point I think you’ve missed is that back in the 1960’s here in the UK it was a CRIME to attempt suicide. It was also a SIN for Catholics and people were buried in unmarked graves. In even earlier times the treatment of people who died by suicide was more barbaric still.
    We live in more enlightend times yet the word ‘commit’ lingers on. And it is hugely STIGMATISING.
    Whenever I hear it in future I intend to point out that it ‘hurts my ears’ it’s factually incorrect and it does nothing to help the huge problem of suicide which persists today.
    I may come up with other ways to spread the word about what is no longer an acceptable way to describe a tragic act.

  38. Rhi says:

    Is “Ended their own life” acceptable? Ended usually has neither positive nor negative connotation. It’s not mentioned in your item.

    I will endeavour to use “died/death by suicide” in future writing.

    • Erin Martin says:

      You do not agree that there is anything wrong with using “committed suicide”. Not even if it is hurtful and stigmatising to those of us who have to live with the aftermath of losing loved ones this way?? Not even though it is an expression that relates to a time when suicide was a crime and a sin and those attempting it were prosecuted and buried in unmarked graves?? Where is your compassion. It doesn’t matter to you because you are not directly affected by the fear and silence and prejudice that surrounds the subject. To many of us it does matter. And you show you have misunderstood when you speak of ” committing to” something. That’s different. We don’t say that when speaking of suicide. Language has power to hurt or to heal. We need to tread with care.

    • Erin Martin says:

      Thank you for understanding the need for change. Died by suicide or simply killed herself or himself seems ok to me. No connotations of a criminal or immoral act attach to those words.

  39. LED says:

    Kind of off topic but I am a teacher and I had a question on an exam using he /she when referring to a character from the works studied. My Dept head asked me to include “their” to be gender neutral. None of the characters are experiencing gender identity issues, and it’s not grammatically correct singular/plural agreement so wtf does it matter. There is intention and perception. One needs to understand the difference.

  40. L.e.d says:

    With all due respect the word commit means to intentionally follow through with an action. Wedding vows indicate you are committed to living with a person for life. It is ridiculous to suggest that by changing a term would make a person thinking of taking his life instead of feel comfortable reaching out for help. As others have noted taking a life whether someone else’s or your own is a crime, you just can’t prosecute a person once dead. The idea to push for new terms is in fact trying to be “politically correct” however which way you try to dress it up.

    • Erin Martin says:

      First, no one uses the term committed to suicide which is a subtle difference but an important one. The term committed suicide is historical and outdated. Had my mother killed herself in 1961 instead of later her body would have been punished as ludicrous as it sounds by being buried in an unmarked grave because it was a crime then. If her attempt had failed she would have been prosecuted in court.
      The church would have condemned her too. Ugly, barbaric responses we have left behind here in UK.
      So its not about being PC. And anyone who is suffering mentally, yet brave, as she was does not need the additional stigma that comes with these old ideas embedded in the language around suicide.
      Open your mind to change please.

  41. ZB says:

    Just a thought: with all due respect, suicide is a sin because a person took his/her life regardless of the circumstances. It falls under the 10 Commandments: “Thou shall not kill”. For us, it is painful to accept that a person or a loved one did such a thing because of a situation or illness or trauma maybe because we are or we were guilty — we never saw it coming, because if we do see that this person wants to cut his/her life short, we will do everything to stop it from happening, regardless. Now that the action is done and the loved one did suicide, we are rationalizing to save us from the guilt so we can move on, like Pontius Pilate, washing our hands. We leave the blame to the person who lost his/her life because they have this illness, or trauma, or whatever reason may be.

    I know the feeling. I too, lost my friend to suicide. We really did not see it coming, or maybe some of us did see it but we were too far or too busy to respond. I was guilty because I noticed the signs too late, and I was very far from where he was.
    Though some people said that he had a mental illness, if the people around him already noticed his capabilities and reached out to him on time, that may have prevented him from doing so.

    Regardless if the words used is committed or completed, suicide is still a sin. its up to us, the ones remaining here on earth, on how we will be able to forgive ourselves because somehow we failed to intervene on time..

    • Rhi says:

      Your religious bigotry is as unwelcome on this topic as it is unwelcome on the topic of women’s health.

      • Joe Paisley says:

        Your bigotry against religion is equally offensive. So I guess we are all offended. Some people are miserable in their lives and they kill themselves. What we call it is completely irrelevant.

  42. Andy Schotz says:

    Discussions like this about language are important or helpful. I am particularly interested in them as a journalist.
    Words and phrases need to be sensitive, but also unambiguous.
    • “Died by suicide” is clear and factual, as are “killed himself/herself” and “took his/her own life.”
    • “Committed” is ingrained in the language, but I see the reason for avoiding that reference.
    • I don’t like “completed suicide” as an alternate for “committed.” It sounds as if suicide is an act waiting for the person to finish it.
    • “Died of unnatural causes” is sensitive, but not clear. Homicide is an unnatural cause, too.
    • I used to think “shot and killed himself” was clear, but it also would have to say “intentionally” to distinguish it from an accident. “Suicide” includes intent.
    • I agree that “died by suicide” is not descriptive in what happened, but lessons on reporting have taught me that describing the suicide death is not necessary and can even be harmful.
    Thanks to all for sharing your perspectives on this. Getting multiple viewpoints helps us shape our thinking.

  43. Theresa Hayward says:

    What about saying the person dies of “unnatural causes?” I have a disease that is known as one of the most painful diseases known to the medical community. It is actually known as “the suicide disease” It is not uncommon to read about people with this condition taking their lives because of the untreatable pain and suffering. They are often bedridden and almost screaming if not begging to be out of this pain. I struggle as to whether taking one’s life with our disease is moral. If writing about taking of one’s life it really does not need to be said. It can just be noted of their passing. If someone asks directly about it, is it proper to say they died of unnatural causes?

  44. Jessica says:

    Thank you for the writing this article, I appreciate learning this, as I am going to be talking about some things related to this in the near future,
    I am curious as to how you feel about term “self deliverance”, and if the definition of suicide is more applicable to a rash act, as opposed to one which is well planned and thought out…for example, someone who has been incapacitated by many failed surgeries and/or the inability to receive health care which has led to a non-existent Quality of Life or Function. Thank you.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Thanks for your feedback. Personally, I don’t like the term “self deliverance” because, to me, it glorifies suicide. The definition of “deliverance” is “the act of being rescued or set free.” While someone who is in abject pain or other misery might view premature death as rescue or liberation, there are others who, with treatment or time, feel otherwise.

      I think the distinction you’re making between different types of suicide might be captured in the term “rational suicide,” which applies to people who have thought through their reasons for suicide carefully and have what they believe are rational reasons for proceeding. Some people argue that there is no such thing as rational suicide – they say all suicides are by nature irrational – but that’s another topic. If you’re interested, you might want to read the very well-researched book Rational Suicide, Irrational Laws, by Susan Stefan.

  45. Erin says:

    This is such a good point. I was looking for how to note a suicide for a genealogy profile. Thank you for helping me phrase it in such a way so as to not cast blame and (hopefully) not case undue pain to descendants.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m grateful the post was helpful to you and, by extension, can help those who read the genealogy report. Thanks for letting me know!

  46. Natalie Wagner says:

    Then what the h@#l are we supposed to call it? My husband IS dead because he DID shoot himself in the head….

  47. Dirger says:

    In a lot of cultures it is a crime or sin. If they were successful one would say that were committed to go through with it.

  48. Connie Iddings says:

    There is hope in forgiveness. There is healing. But I cannot agree with this article entirely. Suicide is a sin. Murder of anyone is a sin. Who are you to determine what is and what isn’t a sin? Someone could be a drug dealer or an adulterer, child abuser ect. Those acts are sinful, that doesn’t change because someone determines that it isn’t. If they stay in this behavior it will not benefit them. It will harm others as well. There is hope though. If they seek it. It is out there. To say these harmful things are not bad, are not sinful is not true. Not offering help is equally wrong. Judging someone or acting like you are better is equally wrong. No one is without sin. There is forgiveness and hope available for everyone! Language does matter. It should not deceive, it should face head on in truth reality and find a solution with love.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the explanation. I agree and will eliminate completed suicide.

    One thing not mentioned about stigma is that the stigma can also be attached to or felt by surviving family, friends, loved ones.

  50. C. Ancrile says:

    When a child has cancer and dies we say they died from cancer not the chemo that quite often is what happened when there bodies could not longer take treatment. Those that die by suicide are dying from depression. Depression is the disease. suicide is often an outcome. Get rid of the stigma. Mental health diseases are as real as cancer, diabetes and lupus. WORDS MATTER.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      C. Ancrile,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that depression itself can be the culprit when someone with depression kills himself or herself. However, a very large proportion of people who die by suicide do not have depression. Some don’t even have mental illness at all. As a result, it would be incorrect to ascribe every suicide to depression.

  51. Anonymous says:

    While I see where you are coming from, I also think that putting a stamp on suicide like it is okay, is by far not okay. They in fact did commit self murder. Suicide leaves behind a magnitude of pain for loved ones left behind. People need to see that suicide is not the way to leave this world, God is in charge of that. Please see that suicicde is not the answer!!! Reach out to anyone, anyone at all to help you through your dark time, you will rise out of it and please always remember you are NOT a burden! These are the words that we need to focus on!

    • mark young says:

      i agree very much with your perspective… i too believe words can be very powerful good or not so good… i personally use the phrase “Significant Mental Health Differences” (SMHD) in nonprofessional environments… it goes to not using words that carry “baggage” of others different, sometimes very different, meanings gained from personal experience with, lack of accurate knowledge, etc.,, for example, using professional terms in nonprofessional settings can confuse and create a sense of overwhelming circumstances that simply are counterproductive when trying to help others be more informed about the realities of mental health, suicide… we all are interested in our own mental well being… some of us experience significant differences that are simply don’t allow us to experience and live in the world as most others do… i have writte anumber of articles and would appreciate your perspective about how they can affect others… they are meant to convey some of these differences (perhaps onlyu my own) of Mental health to clarify and hel;p others more realistically relate to a world that very often can only be known from the inside out… please visit linkedin articles in my profile @ mark young… these are two links… blessings, M

    • mark young says:

      murder is a highly judgemental term especially regarding something that the knowledge of why behind the suicide can only be known by that person themselves… all else is a guess at best… to label an act murder requires a accurate knowledge of the true intention… don’t know your personal experience with suicide but i have experienced it from both sides of the coin and advocated for and supported for many in their pain and suffering… be careful judging from what your cannot know perfectly… a caring loving forgiving person would recognize their own inability to know without question the true reality of another individual’s reality…

      blessings, M

      please view my article discussing this and more re suicide from someone who has lived it in personal experience…

    • Heather says:

      If God really was in charge of how someone leaves this world, a person trying to kill themselves would be able to let out all their blood and still be alive with zero blood cursing through their veins, or in fact God would heal their wounds whenever they try to commit self murder. Which I do agree with they did or tried to commit self murder.

  52. Amey says:

    it is sad

  53. Kenneth says:

    I would consider stating ” the cause of death was suicide” . It is good for writing, a little less so for speaking. My cousin died of suicide, but it could also be said, died of a (self inflicted) gunshot wound. The frantic phone call I got in the middle of the might was F****** killed herself. RIP Unfortunately, some people love the details.

  54. Robin Banavage, M. says:

    I highly agree with the use of “die by suicide”. I disagree with the way that “committed” criminalizes an act of desperation sprung from inner pain and turmoil. We recently learned in our lectures to say “die by suicide” and I was genuinely relieved to have found a way to articulate the act without demonizing and stigmatizing the victim or survivor. “Commit suicide” holds deep prejudice about the morality of suicide and where it comes from.

  55. Kim says:

    I say my son lost his battle with anxiety and depression. Just like someone losses their battle with cancer, diabetes, or heart desease. He died of a physical illness of the brain

  56. Hunnytree says:

    …or….why not say a phrase already in fairly common usage….”took his/her own life” ? I would add that we commonly refer to the taking of another’s life in a similar linguistic manner.

  57. Jo Scharf says:

    In Spanish there is a reflexive verb: “suicidarse”. You would say “se suicidó”. It means “he/she suicided” or “he/she killed himself/herself”. Could we encourage people to say “he suicided” instead of “he committed suicide”?

  58. Sue Heymans says:

    Stacey, thank you for this article. We know suicide is an emotional issue and it seems even discussion of non-stigma terminology evokes emotions. Thanks

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Sue, thank you for your feedback. I agree, discussion of suicide and stigma is fraught with emotions, even when we’re trying to reduce stigma. My hope is that in time suicide can be frankly discussed with more ease than now.

  59. Steve Barnaby says:

    The term “died by suicide” is grammatically redundant and therefore incorrect. It’s like saying “died by electrocution.” “Electrocuted” implies death as does suicide. Unfortunately saying “suicided” would be considered an awkward use of the English language. The most effective and forthright alternative that best describes the suicide is saying the person “killed themselves.”

    • Anonymous says:

      You can be electrocuted and not die.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I see what you mean about the potential redundancy of the phrase “died by suicide.” But don’t you think “by suicide” simply gets more specific about how one died? To be truly redundant, one would need to say that someone suicided and died.

      Regardless, our language is peppered with phrases that are more colloquial than logical. For example, “organic” food. Organic means living matter, or the product of living matter. So, all food is organic. But when one says “organic vegetables,” people widely understand that to mean vegetables that were grown without the use of pesticides.

      My point is that language can be imprecise or even contradictory but still have a clear meaning to others. In this case, there is no doubt as to the meaning of the phrase “died by suicide,” and it hurts nobody to use it.

    • Hunnytree says:

      ….or why not simply what is already in common usage…..the phrase….”took his own life”

  60. Anna says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking. I’d never thought of ‘committed suicide’ as a derogatory term, but I can see some might think of it in that way. ‘Completed suicide’ sounds plain odd. I guess the important issue here is around the stigma of suicide, for those considering it and those affected when someone has gone through with it. Thanks.

    • Heather says:

      Well, let’s take a look at this a different way, do we say “they tried a crime” whether than “they tried to commit a crime”? I don’t think so.
      And, as to the one stating that our language is full of idioms, they came from somewhere, but most of them didn’t start in the English language. And, most of us don’t use those idioms anyway.

  61. Kate says:

    I can’t stand the term ‘died by suicide’, as you said, it is clunky and for some reason it just rubs me the wrong way. I wrote an article for the mighty once titled “Dear Hubby, Sorry I tried to kill myself” and they changed the title to “Dear Hubby, sorry I tried to die by suicide” and it made me hate the article, it felt like yet another correction, another thing I couldn’t do right. I know that sounds really silly…
    I also don’t have a better alternative to offer

  62. KS says:

    I contemplate suicide all the time, & I don’t care what words anyone might use to describe it. I’m a Linguistics major – and words are one of the only things I find meaningful- so that’s saying something. If I ever did complete the act, and actually committed suicide – the absolute last thing that would matter would be the words you would use to describe it afterward – just saying.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      Fair point. The words aren’t important to you. They are important to many other people, though, not only people who think about or have attempted suicide, but also people who have lost a loved one to suicide and don’t want the person they lost to be likened to a criminal.

      It’s such an easy thing to avoid certain language that I figure, why not? If it helps some people and doesn’t hurt the others, including people like you who don’t care about the words, then it seems like a “win-win.”

  63. irdra says:

    Oh, if only you could spell out the words instead of putting a single letter in quotations you might actually be of some useful help on the subject of suicide to soneone.

    (Here let me spell it out for you…)
    !!! S – U – I – C – I – D – E !!!

    But N0 ! And why ? Because your political correctness (as usual) trumps reality today as always like any other ig!N0!rant, stupid ‘belief’ ALWAYS DOES AND WILL !

    Go figure and imagine that…

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      The level of anger provoked by this article (see Felix’s comment below) intrigues me. I would love to understand more about what is offensive or threatening about avoiding the term “commit suicide.”

      I also don’t understand your suggestion that I’ve avoided the word “suicide” in my article. You’ll find that I use the word “suicide” three times in the headline alone, and many, many more times throughout the article. I’m wondering if your comment was intended for something else you read…? Truly I’m confused, and I’d be grateful to learn from you what I might be communicating poorly or missing altogether.

  64. Felix says:

    I find this article to be such an insult to people for so many reasons, but the self-righteous moralizing is disgusting and intellectually shallow. For anyone to claim that using the expression, “commit suicide” implies more than what the means provide, literally, is irrational. If you choose other words, then that’s ok, but please don’t wag your finger at those who choose their own way. This is identity politics and political correctness overstepping a boundary, mine. Take a hike!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Felix, this clearly makes you angry. However, if it doesn’t hurt you when others use a more sensitive phrase than “commit suicide,” and if it helps others who are grieving a loved one’s suicide or contemplating suicide themselves, then what’s the harm?

      I often find that the term “political correctness” is used to deride those who respond with compassion to others’ injuries or differences, and to excuse one’s own lack of a compassionate response. I’m not directing that to you personally; rather, I’m referring to the racists, sexists, misogynists, etc. in our midst who complain about political correctness because they want to publicly air their hatred without consequence.

      I say that because I want to make clear that I don’t agree that “political correctness” is really a bad thing, unless taken to an extreme. I don’t think using the phrase “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide” is extreme by any measure.

      I thank you for contributing your dissenting view. It gives me the opportunity to consider and clarify my own views, and perhaps those of other readers’ here, too.

      • Tom Covenant says:

        In my circle there’s someone who’s very militant about correcting anyone who uses “committed suicide”, a phrase I continue to use.
        Her mother committed suicide many years ago.
        She has said she’s perfectly fine with saying “My mother killed herself”.
        How is that better?? What makes “commit” so evil but “killed” harmless?

        In my life I don’t know anyone who’s thought of someone who’s committed suicide as having done a criminal act – and this is important – UNLESS there was an associated act that’s clearly a crime, like so many mass shootings or domestic murders.
        Do you consider those suicides innocuous?
        It has always been thought of as mental illness, something for which people get “committed” to an institution.
        Is THAT considered to be a criminal act?
        “Commit” has more than one meaning and only people who lack the capability of nuance fail to understand that when applied to suicide
        But in the interest of clearly distinguishing one type of suicide from another, I’ve begun to refer to suicides where the intent was to escape justice as committing self-murder.

      • Erin Martin says:

        Tom Covenant
        You ask How is it better to use killed herself rather than committed suicide in response to someone whose mother died by suicide.
        It’s better because the daughter says it is! For her and also for me. And many others who have endured the tragedy of losing loved ones this way. Obviously you aren’t one of them or you’d have more empathy.
        Please take the trouble to read earlier comments which explain why the expression has an ugly hurtful and stigmatising history.
        No- one has committed suicide in the UK since 1961 . Thats when the law changed to decriminalise it. My mother was not a criminal.

  65. Kristen says:

    I feel like something a lot of people are missing here that is contributing to the stigma of mental health and suicide is that suicide is not the disorder itself, but a symptom of a disorder. We don’t say this about physiological disorders – for example – with Cancer or Severe Autoimmune Disorders (where the body literally attacks itself) – we don’t say that the person killed themselves, we say the disease killed them. Why are we not saying this with suicide? Illnesses like Depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, etc. can sometimes be fatal – and that’s exactly what this is – when a mental illness or injury becomes fatal. Healthy people don’t suicide – it’s not part of one’s personality to suicide – it’s not a choice (at least not in the cases that don’t involve some type of external threat – but that’s a totally different topic). Think of like this – sometimes our brain chemicals attack us and cause symptoms like being unable to access hope, severe pain, inability to see other options and think about them rationally, inability to experience connection with others the way that others experience connection with them, etc. Suicide can also be a side effect of medications that an individual is taking in their fight to feel better and be healthy – doesn’t that directly conflict the notion of someone wanting to die and then acting on that desire? I think that the idea of someone who “looks healthy” from the outside and is high functioning in other ways dying from a mental illness is so scary (because it could happen to anyone), that people seek to put as much distance between themselves and someone who died that way … that way they can say “that will never happen to me, I would never do that” and feel like they have some control over it. We don’t. The best we can do is get medical attention for symptoms early, have conversations like these to spread awareness and education, and not blame people for symptoms of an illness they didn’t ask for (including ourselves). Maybe if we treated Mental Health Disorders the same way we treated other serious and potentially fatal disorders, we could reverse the recent increase in people dying from their Depression/ Bipolar/ PTSD etc.

  66. Andrew says:

    Despite being someone who has experienced multiple episodes of depression, and including a suicide attempt, I really do not like the phrase ‘died by suicide’.

    I can accept ‘Completed Suicide’, but the real focus should be that the person killed himself/herself. ‘Died by suicide’ is impersonal, worse is ‘passed away’. Both suggest that the death was involuntary, unpreventable, focused more on alleviating the pain of family and friends rather than examining what stresses led to the suicide. No, the depression/bipolar sufferer was not entirely in their right mind, but this was a purposeful act.

    More terminology serves to remove responsibility from both the person who killed themselves and those connected to them. Those who completed suicide are ‘victims’, as if depression was a sentient entity who committed murder. I can see no real alternative to this, given how depression warps a person’s thinking, but I object to family and friends being referred to as ‘survivors’. It is possible that a they were as supportive as they could be, and the depression sufferer hid their struggles to avoid being a burden, I know I did, but it is more likely that their actions or lack thereof played a part in the chain of events that led to the suicide. Neglect and unrealistic expectations can be as big a negative influence as direct abuse.

    What we need to do to help those suffering from mental illness is not to make suicide an impersonal tragedy, but focus on the very personal stresses that weigh so heavily on them, and where they are coming from. Be it work, finances, personal relationships, family, even the simple sense that one’s life is not at all where your expectations and those of your family would want…depression sufferers need not just to talk about these stresses, but receive assistance in how to redress them. Getting strategies or resources to fix the problems is important.

    Preventing suicide is more important than determining what to call it.

    • Lisa Jones says:

      Quite a hasty over generalization.

    • Colleen Kilbane says:

      Completely agree. My son killed himself 6 years ago and if asked I say that he either ‘killed himself’ or he ‘took his own life’. I totally hate hate hate the commonly used euphemism for death as someone has ‘passed’ or ‘passed away’. No-one ever just dies anymore. I do find that quite a number of people get very uncomfortable when I say my son is dead, died, killed himself. These days people don’t like facing reality of life. Also I think the phrase ‘died by suicide’ is the best of a bad lot but I still prefer saying it as it is i.e. he killed himself.

  67. Ken Westmoreland says:

    I loathe the term ‘die by suicide’, which is no better than the term it is trying to replace, like replacing the letters of a swear word with asterisks.

    One argument against using ‘commit’ is that you can no more ‘commit suicide’ than you can ‘commit cancer’, but we don’t say ‘die by cancer’, do we?

    We rarely use the word ‘commit’ with ‘genocide’ or ‘homicide’ anyway, so why use a verb with ‘suicide’ at all?

    Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that unlike other Germanic languages, English uses a Latin word to hide the act of self-killing, in contrast to ‘Selbstmord’ in German, ‘zelfmoord’ in Dutch or Danish ‘selvmord’, which literally mean ‘self-murder’.

    Expressions like ‘take one’s life’, ‘end one’s life’ or, if needs be, ‘kill oneself’ do the job.

  68. Doug says:

    Thank you for the article. Any perspectives or suggestions for using the phrase “attempted suicide”? I always feel a little uncomfortable with this phrase as well, but don’t know any alternatives

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      You’re welcome!

      Some people say “self-harmed” instead of “attempted suicide, but that can include people who harm themselves without intending to die.

      I myself don’t have an objection to the phrases “attempted suicide” or “tried to kill himself” or “tried to kill herself.” However, there are some who say we shouldn’t use the phrase “kill oneself” because it implies violence and volition. (That’s a topic for another blog post, perhaps.)

      Semantics are complex, especially around a topic as tragic and painful as suicide. Thanks for being sensitive to these matters!

  69. Kimberly says:

    Regarding the discussion of “sin,” it’s best to leave that to pastors and spiritual directors. There are a variety of religions, each with its own doctrine. Psychology is not a religion. It is an overreach for any psychotherapist to declare infallible dogma.

    I understand that there may be prejudice in the field of psychology regarding past religious doctrines that were held by one or a number of religions, but it’s an error to generalize. In my own Church, for 2,000 years, people who die by suicide are not kept out of the hallowed burial ground. There are ancient accounts of saints who received messages from the souls of people who died by suicide, reassuring the survivors that God granted them the grace of contrition and pardon for their sins. This isn’t a belief shared by all religions, and I wouldn’t expect you to endorse it. But neither do I expect you to provide spiritual guidance by falsely “reassuring” people that suicide is never a sin. We understand that mental illness is a human weakness in the same way that every other illness and daily imperfection is a weakness, a result of being born into a fallen, broken world, and it’s not something to be ashamed of in itself, because the saints were just like us. In my Church, we pray for the forgiveness of sins, including the sins of the faithful departed. I simply wouldn’t refer anyone to this website, because it teaches false doctrine.

  70. Rudy says:

    I don’t like that “died by suicide” doesn’t underscore agency at the grammatical level, the way “committed/completed suicide” or “killed himself/herself” do.

  71. Jen in Maine says:

    This is a really tough one. My father took his own life in 1996. In 2004 I worked for the State of Maine’s Suicide Prevention Program. It was there I learned to say “completed” suicide. I never liked that term, but that’s the term we were taught to say. I find it ironic they are discouraging that term now.

  72. Jennifer says:

    Completed as a word choice is helpful if viewed in parallel with the fact that there are far more “attempted”suicides than “completed” ones. Self injury also complicates the discussion somewhat because it might look “suicidal” to cut but rarely is the injury dangerous or meant as an attempt to end life.

  73. Alex says:

    I prefer “Committed Suicide” or “Killed them/him/herself.” The second one is usually the go to. “Died by Suicide” is a mouthful. But if it works for you, then go for it!

  74. Suzy Bannigan says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing this issue. I appreciate these observations and language choices and I am grateful to you for heightening our awareness of same.

  75. ME (Mentally Exhausted) says:

    WOW!!!! How ’bout we all just see it and call it what it truly is!!!! A loss of life. A untapped potential of wonderful purpose that was unable to be fulfilled because the suffering was to great to the one we lost. Wake up, people!!!! Also, I read something about it no longer being a crime, really. If that truly is the case then how come someone I knew personally got 2 welfare checks called on him when he specifically told the crisis worker, screaming and yelling because his life was extremely frustrating and getting more and more less worth living “I wish I was dead. I cannot live like this anymore. I am so stressed I out every decision I make just ends up with my life becoming even more unlivable. Oh, and please, I have no interest in hurting myself or anyone else. All I need is just an ear to acknowledge my suffering and frustration.” Not 20 minutes later, the sheriff deputies were pounding on his door, which caused the problem. Not to mention the gentleman he sub-leased to had been a nightmare. Oh, and he specifically couldn’t take the chance of his life becoming worse at the cost of being caged like a criminal. The “poor guy” (quite the contrary, actually) more like “screaming for HELP, begging for peace, needing relief from the constant abuse, called the crisis worker to let go of the frustration, told the “trusted” (because she was “qualified” according to those who determined such things) worker specifically that having the law show up at his house, which just the possibility of him being caged would just make it worse, and what did she do. I was that sufferer!!!! I suffer because I am trying to figure out how to make life livable. I am 47 y.o. and my first lock-up in a psychiatric hospital was over 30 years ago. My experiences over my lifespan are what becomes life to me. I have been working on better understanding my “mis-firing” brain more so now than ever before. I want society to have a chance to get to know the effects they have had on me, when all I ever wanted was value found in acceptance. Instead my legal right to protect myself and my loved ones was “illegally” taken from me, which leaves me more and more abused. From reading Dr. Amen’s book, along with my personal experiences, it definitely makes sense that the harder I try (to live better) the worse it gets. Oh and he also points out how getting the right diagnosis is key to the right treament. He further acknowledges that for the one suffering the wrong treatment is often times worse than getting no-treatment at all. I am writing a book, I guess. It is critical that we listen, and hear, and respect what we need to. I may not know what would HELP me, but I sure know whatever doesn’t help just makes it much worse.

  76. moviedoc says:

    I prefer “killed himself/herself.” And nobody dies “by suicide.” Someone who kills herself can do so by overdose, jumping, shooting themselves or other causes. Suicide , like homicide, specifies WHO killed you, not WHAT killed you.

  77. Anonymous says:

    My daughter took her life I hate the term committed suicide she did not commit a crime she was ill and frightened x

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      I’m very sorry for your loss, Anonymous. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I have heard many other survivors of suicide loss say that the term “committed suicide” adds salt to their wound.

      Also, in case you’re interested, FYI, I list resources here for people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

    • Kiwi says:

      I’m so sorry

    • Bastet says:

      I also lost my daughter to suicide. I’m perplexed by the MANY people who insist on proclaiming that someone “committed” suicide….and say that the phrase “died from suicide” is inaccurate. It’s frustrating. My daughter did NOT die as a criminal. She had mental health issues.

  78. Nyasha Levy says:

    Excellent article. I see all points but now I think I prefer to use died of suicide. I now know my son was not well and needed help.

  79. Jen Withrow, LICSW says:

    I say completed suicide or died by suicide. When I say completed suicide, I have more people asking why I say it that way. This gives me the opportunity to provide them some information. If I can educate someone on this topic, maybe they too will be open to changing they way they think and speak. People don’t ask why you say died by suicide= no educational opportunity. I lost my 17 year old son.

  80. Diane says:

    I agree, words have power. I have had a hard time with the language of someone who has taken their own life. I couldn’t have even imagined I would even be a part of this discussion. My mother ‘died by suicide’ in 1999. She used a .38 and left a note blaming my sister and me. I found the suuport group, Survivors of Suicide, and many resources and have finally healed, as has my sister.
    I thank you for your article, as it does help when the language is clear. There was a silver lining in all of this, as it raised my awareness of Suicide and subsequently I was able to save not only my own son’s life, but two other’s as well.
    Suicide is a topic that needs to be discussed. As well as the mental illness that brings most people to even contemplate, death by suicide.

  81. Sheila Cmeron says:

    My first husband “died by suicide” in 2000. I went to support groups, seminars and counseling. The preferred term seemed to be completed suicide. To this day, I have a hard time with the wording. He did “die by his own hand” but he had mental health and physical issues. He shot himself in the heart and the bullet bounced around and stayed in his heart. He died by suicide. I also have a problem with the fact that seemingly everyone says a person passed. What ever happened to saying they died. Thank you for this article. I will say died by suicide from now on.

  82. Phyllis Crubaugh says:

    I say that my son completed suicide, because he had contemplated it for a long time. It fits.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m very sorry for your loss. How hard it must have been to watch as he contemplated suicide for a long time. Thanks for contributing here.

  83. Linda Snyder says:

    I just simplify it further. My husband suicided.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


      I’m sorry for your loss. I do see that language sometimes and I agree with you: it’s simple. And true.

      What I despise, though, is when someone refers to someone as “a suicide.” Someone who suicided was a person, not *a* suicide. Everyone is far more than the way that they died.

      (And now autocorrect is telling me “suicided” is not a word. Alas. The Oxford English Dictionary disagrees.)

      • Theresa says:

        What about saying the person dies of “unnatural causes?” I have a disease that is known as one of the most painful diseases known to the medical community. It is actually known as “the suicide disease” It is not uncommon to read about people with this condition taking their lives because of the untreatable pain and suffering. They are often bedridden and almost screaming if not begging to be out of this pain. I struggle as to whether taking one’s life with our disease is moral. If writing about taking of one’s life it really does not need to be said. It can just be noted of their passing. If someone asks directly about it, is it proper to say they died of unnatural causes?

        • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:


          I’m sorry you suffer. You make insightful points about “the suicide disease.” Given how eloquently you speak of the forces of suicide, I’m left wondering why it would (or should) be necessary to avoid saying a person died by suicide? Is stigma or shame at work? If so, in my opinion, it is undeserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.