Addressing Stigma

Suicide stigma is an important issue for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.

Stigma means a "mark of shame or discredit". (Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health)

Suicide stigma has deep roots in religion and the law.  The Christian Church treated suicide as a sin from the fifth century AD until the middle or late twentieth century.  Most states made suicide a crime until the twentieth century, in Canada until the 1970’s.  By the twentieth century, with developments in medicine and psychiatry, suicide started to be viewed as a health issue.

Stigma is one of the biggest barriers in the grief process for survivors of suicide.

Most importantly, stigma around suicide often keeps people who are suicidal from openly talking about their thoughts with family and friends and from seeking help, treatment, and support.

This means suicide stigma can actually cause suicide.

Although suicide in Canada is not a sin or crime, the stigma lingers on.  Many people view suicide as immoral or a sign of weakness or a sign of selfishness.  These beliefs stem from a lack of understanding about suicide and mental illness.

If someone you love has died by suicide, you are faced with a double impact of stigma.  First, as mental illness has a stigma, your loved one may have not sought help because of this.  Secondly, the suicide itself has a stigma.

In the immediate aftermath of the suicide, you need to talk about the death and the valiant struggle of your loved one.  Friends and family may be uncomfortable discussing the suicide or may make unhelpful comments.  The survivor is faced with fighting shame and guilt when support is needed.  

The term "committed suicide" strongly suggests suicide is a sin or crime, carrying the stigma associated with suicide.  The term "committed suicide" should be replaced by saying, "died by suicide". 

Our goal is to increase awareness and knowledge about the nature of suicide to remove the stigma, shame, and guilt – and most of all, to prevent more deaths by suicide.

What can we all do to fight stigma about suicide?

  • End the silence around suicide.
  • Encourage people to talk about their thoughts and feelings about suicide with friends, family, and helping professionals.
  • Make sure that any education includes anti-stigma messages.
  • Be aware of suicide facts so that you can help dispel some of the myths around suicide.

(Adapted from information from the Centre for Suicide Prevention)