Suicide prevention

Use different terms to describe act

In the light of Suicide Prevention Day on Sept 10, it is timely to review how the act of dying by suicide is described.

I am dismayed to read and hear the term "commit suicide" still being used today in the media and by mental health professionals.

Cambridge Dictionary defines "commit suicide" as "a phrase used to mean 'to kill yourself', which is now considered offensive because it suggests that doing this is a crime".

As of Jan 1 last year, Singapore has decriminalised suicide attempts.

Language matters, as our words do manifest our perception, attitudes and behaviour towards suicide.

Counsellor Rita Schulte, at a recent suicide prevention summit, said: "The term 'committed suicide' is something we're trying to steer away from right now. It seems innocuous but it carries with it a lot of blame, shame, guilt, even sin, suggesting that the person committed a crime, some kind of morally reprehensible, unforgivable act."

Suicide prevention begins with every one of us. Being sensitive in describing suicide using terms such as "died by suicide" instead would greatly help in reducing the stigma surrounding suicide.

Imagine how the family and friends affected by the death of their loved one by suicide would feel upon hearing that their loved one "committed suicide" as if he had committed a crime or sin.

What may have been habitual language is understandably not easy to change, but we have to change, by starting to be more sensitive in the words we use.

Tan Bee Har

  • Helplines

  • • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am to midnight)


    • Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)

    • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

    • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

    • Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928

    • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788

    • Community Health Assessment Team: 6493-6500/1


    • TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252

    • TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers): 6804-6555

    • Care Corner Counselling Centre: 1800-353-5800





A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2021, with the headline 'Use different terms to describe act'. Subscribe