Suicide Concepts & Terminology

When suicide touches close to home or you are in a position to help someone who is contemplating suicide, understanding a few terms and concepts will benefit you.

Committed suicide:

  • It is common to say “you commit a robbery” or “commit a murder”.  We no longer say “committed suicide”.  The word “committed” reinforces the stigma associated with suicide; which was decriminalised in 1972 in Canada.

Died by suicide:

  • It is common to hear “my child died of cancer” or “my husband died in a car accident”. When talking about suicide death, saying “my child died by suicide” sometimes, opens the door to grieving without being judged by others.  As a society, the words we choose to use are powerful.
  • Speaking the words “died by suicide or completed suicide” are difficult for some individuals to say.  Then, there are those who state it loud and clear so there are no secrets.

 Family history of suicide loss:

  • There is no hereditary proof that suicide runs in families.  The concept of similar coping patterns when dealing with stress related concerns or depression may be taught or observed from generation to generation.

Motivation to die:

  • Include the reasons for wanting to die by suicide. Are there recent triggering events such a death or something perceived to be unbearable to live with at the time?  Is there a belief system around death?  Revenge, release from psychological or physical pain.  No perceived reason to live.

Past suicidal acts

  • Past self-harm or suicide attempts may be a predictor of future suicidal attempts.


  • To what degree are plans made, what access to the ability (medication, pills, gun, etc.) of continuing to carry out this plan are available?  Are elements such as timing, location, and acquiring the means completed?  Has a suicide note been written? 
  • A greater risk of completing suicide is apparent when there is more detail to the plan.

Suicidal ideation:

  • Are the thoughts a person has of suicide such as having a plan, their reason and incentive for suicide.

Suicide risk for some people increases with

  • Alcohol abuse, abortion, pregnancy, major mental disorders, depression, personality disorders, anxiety or panic attacks, anorexia nervosa, domestic violence and adding childhood sexual abuse into the mix also increases suicide risk. 
  • Age of the individual.  Consider a senior citizen who is alone, isolated or perhaps has an illness.  Sometimes, they are tired of being in this world and want a way out.
You can be an agent for change when you take the opportunity
to share this knowledge with others.

All my best,

Barbara Gillett Saunders

Greif Counsellor/Thanatologist