Change the Definition of Suicide

Change the Definition of Suicide

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i understand started this petition to Angela Kimball, National Director, Advocacy and Public Policy National Alliance on Mental Illness and

Every day is a tough day to cope with losing a loved one by suicide.

The narratives and views surrounding suicide need to be updated. We can erase stigma simply by redefining the definition of suicide and having accurate and updated conversations.

A few questions need to be answered:

Why is the brain the only organ in our body that is stigmatized when fails?

Why do we stigmatize mental/brain health illnesses yet mourn suicide?

We don’t choose depression so why is suicide a choice?

i understand believes that one important step to eliminating the stigma surrounding suicide and mental/brain health illnesses is to change the definition of the word itself.

We seek to update the stigmatizing definition of suicide about intentionally taking one’s own life to one that states more accurate information about it being a side effect of mental/brain health illness or pain.

Suicide is an issue that touches people with mental/brain illness, as well as those who face other forms of severe mental, emotional, physical pain due to life circumstances.

Empathy goes a long way to connect us to each other. Let’s support our loved ones by spreading the word. A change in the narrative around suicide could change our way of thinking, which could in turn change, or perhaps even save, a life.

Sign the petition to show that you are willing to support those in your life who may be struggling. Demonstrate that you hold an understanding of the pain they feel. Sign for those who have lost a loved one to this devastating effect of illness or pain. Isn’t it time that we have conversations surrounding the pain that leads to suicide, rather than the act itself?

As a nonprofit organization that promotes awareness of suicide and mental/brain illness and provides support for those affected, i understand calls on the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to change or add our updated definition of suicide on their website and in their literature.
Rather than including the outdated, stigmatizing definition about intentionally taking one’s own life, we believe wording should focus on suicide’s tie to severe pain and mental/brain illness. The definition should be changed to, “a side effect of a mental/brain health illness or pain.”

Suicide is most often a “side effect” of a mental illness/brain illness or pain.

However, you don't have to have a mental illness/brain illness to have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Anyone can feel pain, despair, or hopelessness. Difficulties like heartbreak, bullying, financial loss, grief, isolation, severe physical pain - any difficult circumstance can cause pain that can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.

Ultimately, physical, mental, and emotional pain are what lead to suicide.


Thus, it is time to change the definition so that all of these circumstances can be discussed openly and honestly, providing relief and hope for those struggling. It is important to recognize that these illnesses and pain are treatable and preventable.

Vonnie, the founder of i understand, lost her husband to depression, and many of our supporters are loss survivors, as well. We believe that a change in the definition will change the way we all speak and view mental/brain health illness and pain.

For example, if we answered the question, “How did your husband die?” with, “He killed himself,” how do you respond? What are the thoughts running through your head? That response often leads to the most commonly asked questioned: “How did he do it?”

What if we instead said, “He died of depression.” We could then have a much different conversation – one that allows us to talk about the illness rather than the act, leading us to discuss the signs and symptoms of depression, as well as the suffering he was experiencing.
We believe it’s important to talk about WHY someone died rather than HOW someone died by suicide. And those reasons revolve around a struggle so deep that the person sees no other way to manage. The illness takes over, and too often, it wins. We need to focus on the mental/brain illness or pain leading to the death – the causes and symptoms – rather than the act itself. This will increase understanding and reduce the stigma attached to suicide and, in turn, will save lives.

A simple change in language can impact those struggling with their pain, their loved ones, and survivors of suicide loss.

i understand is a nonprofit organization based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, promoting awareness of suicide and mental illness/brain illness and providing support for those affected. We hold support groups for those who have lost a loved one to suicide and we host free monthly community events. We have partnered with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, where we have funded a Clinical Nurse Specialist who educates about mental health in the traditional hospital setting – the first position of its kind in the country. Our nurse works with staff on using proper language around mental illness/brain illness and on finding appropriate treatment for patients. Additionally, we provide care packages for those affected by a mental health crisis at the hospital. Visit our website at or find us on Facebook by searching i understand or #iunderstandloveheals

21,065 have signed. Let’s get to 25,000!
At 25,000 signatures, this petition becomes one of the top signed on!