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Help in a crisis
My story: Change how we talk about suicide

World Suicide Prevention Day – 10 September 

A widow who began running a support group for people affected by suicide following the death of her husband has urged people to think carefully about the terminology they use when talking about death for the sake of loved ones who are left behind.

Suzy Clifford’s husband Len developed psychological issues after suffering a brain injury in a car accident. He took his life three years later while Suzy was at the gym.

“I left the house a married woman and came back a widow. What I found when I returned is an image that will never leave me,” said Suzy, who lives in Bury St Edmunds.

“People do not understand the impact when people are profoundly affected by suicide. All grief carries guilt, but the guilt which survivors feel comes from the idea that you should have prevented it – that somehow you are flawed and have done something wrong. It’s when you get into that circle of thought that you become your most vulnerable.”

Suzy set up the Suffolk branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SoBS) in 2012 to provide a support network for others. It offers indefinite support to survivors via telephone, email or face-to-face, as well as regular group meetings to help people develop coping strategies, relieve isolation and bring hope.

She is also campaigning to change the outdated terminology around suicide by eradicating the use of the phrase “committed suicide”, which originates from the criminal justice system, and replacing it with “died by suicide”. 

“We want to break the link with this outdated, negative language, which can be used to attack both the person who has died and vulnerable survivors,” said Suzy, who lost Len in 2009. 

“My own personal experience was that I was just five weeks into my own grief when someone approached me and said ‘I've heard your husband committed suicide. He is a coward and should be ashamed of himself’. I just could not believe this was acceptable in the 21st century. If that had been a particularly dark day for me, it could have been a trigger when I was at high risk of suicide myself.

“The term has become so engrained in our language that people may not think about the implications unless they have experience themselves.

“Changing the way we talk about suicide is about honouring the person who has passed and protecting their good name and the good names of survivors. It will also play a key role in breaking the circle of stigma and shame for the next generation.”

To find out more about SoBS, click here​.

If you need someone to talk to, you can call The Samaritans on 116 123. For more information, visit ​​the Samaritans' website here.

For further advice and to find out about the support that NSFT can offer, visit the Help in a crisis page here​.

To find out more, visit our World Suicide Prevention Day page here​.