What’s in a Word? How we Talk About Suicide

At some point as a child, an adult probably told you “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” or “actions speak louder than words.” Those phrases take on new meaning when we’re discussing the topic of suicide.

Openly discussing suicide is beneficial for prevention, intervention and postvention. It sends the message that it’s not only acceptable to discuss this sensitive subject, but encouraged as a way to show support to Sailors having difficulty navigating stress on their own. But, the way we discuss it and the words we use can actually have the opposite effect if we’re not aware of best practices. Word choice can make the difference between encouraging help-seeking behavior or contributing to a Sailor’s dwindling perception of his or her life. Sometimes, our actions (being supportive, ACTing) and our words are equally important.

To support the concept of “reducing barriers,” the theme of the final week of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, fact sheets on best practices for talking about suicide are available on www.suicide.navy.mil. The information sheet, “What’s In a Word? How We Talk About Suicide,” provides guidance on responsibly discussing suicide and what to avoid: judgmental language, glamorizing deaths by suicide, oversimplifying causes, etc. Sailors, Suicide Prevention Coordinators, leaders, families and friends should become familiar with these practices to help change the culture and reduce barriers when it comes to seeking help. A version of the document will also be available for the Public Affairs and broadcast media community, to ensure responsible reporting and mitigate risk of suicide contagion (subsequent suicides following certain reporting styles).

A simple change in words, like calling an attempt non-fatal instead of “unsuccessful,” can make a difference. By knowing how to talk about suicide, and knowing when to ACT, we can continue to encourage our shipmates that “it’s okay to speak up when you’re down!”

For Suicide Prevention Awareness Month details, reference NAVADMIN 259/12, visit www.suicide.navy.mil or email caroline.miles.ctr@navy.mil

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