Effects of Context on Perceptions of Suicide Referents


  • Christina Tomaras MacEwan University


Suicide is perceived as immoral and is highly stigmatized, possibly reflecting language use surrounding instances of suicide. The current study extends recent research showing that a suicide depicted as immoral is associated with an increased preference for the phrase “committed suicide” over “died by suicide” relative to a suicide depicted neutrally. Undergraduate participants (N = 204) were randomly assigned to read about a suicide depicted as vengeful or altruistic. They then judged how acceptable the family would find statements employing “committed suicide” and alternative statements employing “ended his[her] life”, “took his[her] own life,” and “died by suicide”. Between-group differences were examined with analysis of variance. Results showed that the alternative phrases were deemed to be more acceptable for the altruistic suicide than for the vengeful suicide. We consider implications for stigma surrounding suicide and its reduction.

Keywords: suicide, stigma, language

Department: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Howell