Language and Attitudes Towards Suicide

  • Jessica Graham MacEwan University
  • Najwa Hajjar MacEwan University


There is significant concern amongst caregivers, mental health advocates, and survivors of suicide attempts about the use of the phrase committed suicide. Sommer-Rotenberg (1998) identified that the phrase connotes criminality, dishonor, and immorality, and that its ongoing use contributes to stigma surrounding suicide. The current study examines whether exposure to the phrase “committed suicide” causes more negative attitudes toward suicide relative to exposure to the phrase “died by suicide”. Two hundred and thirty participants were randomly assigned to fill out one of two versions of a suicide stigma questionnaire: one that (in its original, published form) employs the phrase “committed suicide” or one that replaces that phrase with the alternative “died by suicide”. Our hypothesis was that those answering the questionnaire containing the phrase “committed suicide” would indicate less compassionate attitudes towards suicide compared to those answering the questionnaire containing the phrase “died by suicide.” While the difference between groups was not significant (p < .067), it was in the predicted direction and showed a small effect size (d = 0.246). These findings suggest that the use of more empathic language could reduce stigma surrounding suicide; this, in turn, could increase help-seeking behaviours in those who are at risk for suicide.

Discipline: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Howell