Suicide and suicidal behaviors are some of the most complex and difficult to understand of human behaviors. Suicidal people find their problems to be overwhelming to the point that suicide seems to be the best solution even though they don’t necessarily want to die.
Thoughts of suicide usually occur during times of personal crisis, stress, fear of failure, loss, or depression. Suicide is often an impulsive act, and many people take their lives within 24 hours of a crisis. However, suicide is also often something that can be planned, sometimes meticulously, over time. Again, suicidal behavior is complex.
Words to Use, Words to Avoid
The words we use to describe and talk about killing oneself can be important.
suicide: The act of killing one’s self.
suicidal ideation: Thoughts about killing one’s self.
suicidal behavior: Any act related to, and including, attempting to take one’s own life.
risk factor: Anything that increases someone’s risk of suicidal ideation or suicide.
protective factor: Things that make it less likely someone will engage in suicidal ideation or behavior.
preferred terms: Took his/her own life, Died by suicide, Died as a result of a self-inflicted injury, Suicide death, Completed suicide.
terms generally avoided: Committed suicide, Suicided, Chose to kill him/herself. In particular, try to avoid phrases that include failed or successful, such as failed or successful attempt or failed or successful suicide.
Mental Health, Depression, and Suicide: Related but not the same
Feeling suicidal is most often, but certainly not exclusively, a symptom of untreated depression, a condition for which certain medications and psychotherapies have been shown to be effective. There are other mental illnesses that increase risk for suicide, including substance abuse and anxiety disorders. Fortunately, the vast majority of individuals who suffer from mental and substance abuse disorders do not make suicide attempts or die by suicide. Moreover, many individuals who do die by suicide do not suffer from a mental illness or substance abuse problem.
The majority of suicidal people are actually ambivalent about their desire to die, but see no other way to solve their problems. If they could, with help, regain hope and find better solutions to their problems and feelings of desperation, most people experiencing suicidal ideation would prefer to live.