Last Sunday was World Suicide Prevention Day. Let's examine some common myths around suicide and explore the reality behind them.
Myth 1: Asking someone about suicide will put the idea in their head.
Many people think that broaching the subject of suicide might trigger or plant the idea in someone's mind. However, suicide research indicates asking someone about suicidal thoughts can be beneficial and potentially life-saving. Careful and empathetic discussions can create a space for people to express difficult emotions, experiences, and worries. Sharing fears can help to reduce them. By showing we care and are willing to listen, we also open the door for people to seek help.
Myth 2: Suicide happens without warning.
It’s true that while some suicides are carefully planned, others are impulsive acts carried out in a spike of despair. Even in the latter cases, however, people often exhibit warning signs. Some warning signs to look out for include changes in behaviour; social withdrawal; lack of interest in the future; major changes in sleep and/or eating patterns; expressions of hopelessness; the recent suicide or death of a friend or relative; previous suicide attempts; giving away possessions; and frequent irritability or unexplained crying. Paying attention to such indicators can help us intervene and offer support before it's too late.
Myth 3: People who make suicidal threats rarely kill themselves and are just looking for attention.
Statements or threats about suicide should never be taken lightly. Treat their words seriously and encourage them to seek professional help. Don’t dismiss it as the person “just seeking attention” – attention is often needed and the attention the person gets may well save their life.
Myth 4: If a person wants to kill themselves, we should not interfere.
This is a dangerously misguided idea. A person in crisis may lack clarity and perspective due to overwhelming emotional distress. Engaging with them and connecting them to appropriate resources can provide the lifeline they need. Your intervention could be the turning point that encourages them to seek help and find hope.
Myth 5: People who die by suicide are selfish and opt for an easy escape.
Suicidal motivation stems from a desire to end intense suffering. The person’s pain becomes so overwhelming that they feel powerless and devoid of hope. Even though suicide can have devastating consequences for loved ones left behind, the person may not be thinking clearly and may convince themselves others will be better off without them. Suicidal thoughts are not a casual choice, but a reflection of terrible anguish.
Myth 6: If a person survives a suicide attempt, they won’t ever make a further attempt.
A suicide attempt is regarded as an indicator of further attempts.
Myth 7: Once someone has made up their mind about suicide, no one can stop them.
Episodes of suicidal crisis are often of short duration. Many people who survived suicide attempts report they regretted their decision and are grateful for the support that helped them through their darkest moments. Offering practical support right away, like being present for the person, urging them to open up about their feelings, and assisting them in making plans for the future, can effectively deter suicidal thoughts. This immediate aid is crucial during moments of crisis, but subsequent therapy will also be necessary.
Myth 8: Only depressed or mentally ill people are at risk of suicide.
Suicidal thoughts can arise in people irrespective of their mental health status. While those with mental illnesses face a higher susceptibility to suicide, the relationship is complex. Suicide is often due to a combination of distressing life events. Someone who isn’t depressed can still be at risk of suicide, just as someone may be depressed and not suicidal.
(First published in Southern Star on 14/09/2023)