What is Suicide Disclosure?

It happens it many more ways than you think.



How do people say they are having suicidal thoughts? What does it mean to say you're suicidal? Are there different types of communication?


Too often, professionals rely on poorly-defined terms to talk about suicide-related communication, or they imply communication occurs primarily as a form of manipulation. As a professional and advocate myself, I grew increasingly frustrated by this problem. So last year, I collaborated with a team of stakeholders--attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors, researchers, clinicians--to explore how suicide-related communication differs.


First, there is one over-arching term:

Personal Suicide-Related Communication: the act of conveying one's own suicidal ideation, intent, or behaviors to another person

This is different from talking about someone else's experiences, such as when a family member talks about a loved one's suicidal experience. It could be verbal or nonverbal, direct/explicit or indirect/implicit, active or passive, immediate or delayed, intended or unintended, or include current or past ideation or behaviors with or without time to intervene. We separated this type of communication into 5 different types.




Implications


Why do we even need new terminology? Having shared terms will avoid confusion in future research as we examine how individuals seek help when suicidal. It will also help us develop standardized measure to better assess the nuances between types of communication. This shared language can also help us develop interventions for (1) choosing who would be helpful to disclose to, and (2) educating people in how to respond when a loved one says they are suicidal.


The article is currently published online by Death Studies in advance of print publication. The full version highlights common problems with existing definitions and reviews both good and bad examples from previous research. The full article can be accessed here (requires journal subscription).

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© 2020 by Laura M. Frey, Ph.D., LMFT.