Ending the Stigma by Margaret H. Greenberg

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While I’m on a mission to help prevent suicide, I’m also on a mission to change how we talk about suicide. Want to know what you can do to help your friends, family, and colleagues who have lost a loved one to suicide? Stop saying he or she “committed suicide” and replace it with “died by suicide,and please keep your morbid curiosity in check and don’t ask “How?” This may sound like a small thing, but for those of us who live with the stigma of suicide, it can be a big thing.

We commit crimes. We commit murders. We commit sexual assault.

We die of cancer. We die of heart disease. We die of complications from diabetes. We don’t commit cancer, heart disease, or diabetes even if our habits somehow contributed to the horrible disease.

Recently I saw a trailer on a national news station about a famous person who “committed suicide.” My heart went out to his family.

I lost my mother to suicide when I was about to enter middle school. I didn’t even know what “committed suicide” meant when I was told of my mother’s death.

I used to lie about it

Six years later I went off to college and thought I could re-write my past. When people asked about my family situation I told them I had a father and three older siblings. Of course, the next question was, “Where’s your mom?”

“She died.”

“I’m so sorry,” was most often followed by “how?” I used to lie and say, “She had cancer.”

Everybody knows somebody

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce the loss of life from suicide. With more than 38,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater.

My husband also lost his mother to suicide a few years after we met. Friends have lost children, siblings, and parents to suicide. You probably know someone, too. Every 13 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide. Every 14 minutes the family and friends left behind try to make sense of something that can’t be. 

Call to action

One small way you can show more compassion to people impacted by suicide is to change how you talk about suicide. Please stop saying he or she “committed suicide” and replace it with “died by suicide.” When you hear others use the term “committed suicide” don’t get offended; instead, think of it as a teachable moment. Will you join me in this mission?



This post was originally written by Margaret H. Greenberg and titled, “Three Words that Can Help End the Stigma of Suicide, and first appeared on LinkedIn.” Margaret’s bio is impressive: “I am a writer, executive coach, speaker, workshop leader, and veteran entrepreneur who is so grateful that I get to do what I love every day. I get to coach amazing leaders, write about topics I care deeply about, and travel to interesting places giving talks and workshops at Google and other companies, associations, and universities around the world. I’m the co-author, with my dear friend and colleague Senia Maymin, of the Amazon best seller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional) which is now available in ChineseJapanese and Korean. Last year our book was developed into a Certificate Program which is rated among the top 11 positive psychology courses you can take online. Both Senia and I graduated from the inaugural Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago and are also the Positive Work columnists for Live Happy Magazine. I also occasionally write for Forbes WomanPositive Psychology News, and the Association for Talent Development. My other LinkedIn blog posts can be found here. Please click “Follow” if you enjoy my posts and connect with me on LinkedInFacebook, or Twitter @ProfitBook.”

7 Responses

  1. Debbie
    | Reply

    I agree. I will do this. I lost my son to suicide 7-1-13 and I am still suffering.

  2. Lynne
    | Reply

    I added it to my Survivors of Suicide FB group pages…and my personal page…an easy way to help the cause. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dianna Matzo
    | Reply

    Sometimes I like to take it back even another step when someone asks how she died. She died of Anorexia. Because 30+ years of starving yourself can do a number of terrible things to your body including your mind. She gave up.

    • Margaret Greenberg
      | Reply

      Diana – Your reply is actually educating people, as insensitive as those people may be, that diseases such as Anorexia are a form of suicide and are extrememly painful for not only the sufferer but their family and friends.

  4. Margaret
    | Reply

    Thank you Debbie. I hope these words help ease your pain and all those who knew your son. Sending you a big hug, Margaret

  5. Margaret Greenberg
    | Reply

    Thank you Debbie. I hope using more compassionate language will, in some small way, help ease your pain and the pain of all who loved your son. Margaret

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