Dr. Eileen Callahan, Ph.D.: Suicide Grief Language

Suicide Grief Language

Adapted from Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families Through Suicide Grief by Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D.

The language of suicide is partially responsible for the stigma and shame associated with it. While we were all taught “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” I do not believe that to be true. Labels, as we call them now, often are painful and make coping difficult. It is hard enough to wrestle with grief without having to deal with the language around it too. Still, it is important for us to take time to examine some of the words we use surrounding suicide and grief and then explain how they will be used in this book.

Not so long ago the term suicide survivors was the only accepted phrase in the United States for people coping with suicide loss. Edwin Shneidman, the founder of studying suicide, coined the term suicide survivors in the 1960s. He used it to define anyone directly affected by a suicide, which usually included the immediate family. As the movement gained momentum, this was the term used. It can be confusing, though, because attempters often consider themselves survivors of suicide.

When I began to work internationally, I discovered that in other parts of the world the term is bereaved by suicide, which I believe is a more appropriate way to describe someone coping with suicide loss. Ultimately, both attempters and people who are grieving a suicide death are survivors of suicide, but I believe that each group deserves its own name, and I’m inclined to believe the term survivors better describes attempters. While we all seek to find hope again in our lives, we also need to feel we belong somewhere before we can move forward together.

This site cannot be used to initiate emergency contact. We cannot respond on-line to crisis situations. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

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