Safe Talk can save a lives.
The Center for Disease Control reports the fastest growing demographic of people dying by suicide are 10-14-year-old girls. Could the way we communicate contribute to this trend? Are there things we can say that might make a difference and save a life?
What does it say about our society that teens are throwing around comments like, “I’m going to kill myself” or “Go kill yourself” so often that the phrase has coined a text-worthy acronym, “KMS” or “GKYS?” Are we paying attention? Or are we minimizing this type slang teenage drama? It’s time to tune-in to what kids are talking about and start assuming some responsibility for why these acronyms have become so common–and what we can do to change the conversation.
Suicide Prevention Week is an opportune time to broaden our own knowledge base and figure out how we should be communicating with children. How should we discuss it? The American Association of Suicidolgy gives suggestions for “Safe Messaging” which includes what not to say, and how to say it better. Let’s begin by tapping into our compassion.
When a person dies, it effects family, friends, classmates, teachers and the community.
Using the term “death by suicide” rather than, “committed suicide” makes is more real. Using the term “committed” is an active verb, often used to blame or stigmatize. “Committed murder.” Or “Commit to a mental institution.” It puts the blame on the person. When a person dies from cancer, do we say they “committed cancer?” Changing the phrase to, “died by suicide” demonstrates that, hey, someone actually died and is not coming back. A synonym for “died” is passed away, it is passive, past-tense, over—final. It changes the focus to an actual person who is dead as opposed to focusing on how the person died.
Do not glorify the death of a person who has “died by suicide.” This means it is not helpful, nor respectful to discuss the method an individual uses to stop his or her life. Talking about the gory details puts the focus on the method and takes the focus away from the person. As these details get talked about and passed around it may give a child who is already at-risk for suicidal behavior ideas on methods. To help understand the influence that hearing the same horrible thing, over and over has on our minds, consider how multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies are marketing to us average consumers. During a 30-second commercial the drug name is repeated a dozen times. It doesn’t matter that every gruesome side-effect imaginable is listed. We become immune to the negative side-effects when it is repeated over and over. Our children are hearing about suicide from every conceivable source and becoming immune to the reality that accompanies the death of a classmate. Are they discovering that “suicide” creating a numbness toward Causing children to become immune to the word. So much that there are common acronyms used sarcastically between kids like KMS or GKYS. It’s important to counter the flippant way children are talking about suicide with serious and robust discussions. Make the conversations safe. But make the conversations because suicide is 100% preventable. Start replacing the negative messages kids are getting with messages that instill hope, compassion and the ability to change. The SEL for Prevention programs teach students 8-key concepts, skill-sets and strategies to improve self-regulation and social competence, important protective factors that are associated with resilience. When children are resilient, they have the opportunity to live healthy and happy lives. Use the power of communication wisely.
Below is a basic action plan to help prevention suicide, created in collaboration with the
Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention, the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. For a free copy of the 5 C’s to Suicide Prevention Action Plan, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get more information on talking to kids about suicide or if someone you know is in a crisis, contact the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at