There is no doubt that suicide is a very complicated topic. With the most recent suicide involving mass murderer Elliot Rodgers, I can’t help but think about the topic myself.
We often link suicide to depression or a mental illness, but suicide is a very unique and even mysterious concern. Those who are contemplating suicide do not necessarily have depression or a mental illness. In fact, most depressed individuals can live long, unhappy lives. Because of this, an informed approach to suicide prevention requires an understanding that extends far beyond the symptoms of depression. Beyond depression, what causes someone to consider or attempt suicide? What are the warning signs? Is suicide even predictable? There are some clear answers and there are also some mixed messages out there that make it difficult to answer questions like these. In this article, I will unpack six common myths about suicide as I draw on the book, Dying to Be Free.
Myth One: People Who Talk about Suicide Don’t Always Do It
All threats of suicide should be taken seriously. Giving someone appropriate attention when they talk about suicide is very important. Most suicidal individuals rarely warn others directly and instead they offer vague clues. If suicide is to be prevented, all suggestions, signs, and threats of suicide must always be taken seriously.
Myth Two: Suicidal People Want to Die
Suicidal individuals are not seeking death as much as they are looking for peace and an escape from their constant feelings of severe distress. Many individuals search for a very long time for ways to relieve their pain. When all of their attempts fail, and when their options run out, they only see one way out. Death.
Myth Three: Once Suicidal, Always Suicidal
The fact is that nearly everyone has had a suicidal thought at some point. For many of us, the suicidal thoughts pass and thinking about suicide never comes up again. Some people have seriously considered suicide and then have been saved by an unexpected visit from a friend or family member, a hug, or other acts of kindness. This period of relief is enough to allow someone that chance to think of other options.
Myth Four: Using the Word Suicide May Cause Someone to Do It
Suicide can be a taboo topic in our society. People who feel suicidal don’t want to worry or burden anyone with how they feel and so they don’t discuss it. It is actually advisable to ask direct questions about suicide. In asking questions about suicide we give others permission to talk about their feelings and this gives them the opportunity to receive help.
Myth Five: When a Distressed Person’s Behavior Improves Dramatically, the Danger is Over
An abrupt “lift in mood” can actually be a danger signal. If a person who has been chronically sad, withdrawn, or angry seems to have improved suddenly, the chances are good that the person has planned out the details of suicide and made a firm decision to follow through. The suicidal person still is experiencing pain, but can tolerate it temporarily as they are happy to know that the pain will soon end.
Myth Six: People Who Kill Themselves are Losers
This myth is far from the truth. Suicide has no boundaries and can occur in people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and lifestyles. When you ask the friends and family members of those who have committed suicide, they will describe their loved ones as leaders, excellent students, intelligent, and talented. They can get along well with others and are considered to have experienced problems that are very normal.
There is Help Available for Those Contemplating Suicide
We will never prevent all suicides, but in dispelling these myths about suicide we can raise our own awareness and perhaps our ability to intercede and save lives. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, or if you are concerned about someone who is, I encourage you to be courageous and take the first step and ask for help. If it is an emergency, you need to call 911, your local crisis line, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). You may also consider reaching out to your doctor or psychiatrist.
Cobain, B. and Larch, J. (2006). Dying to Be Free: A Healing Guide For Families After a Suicide. Hazeldon Foundation: Center City, Minnesota.
Both images are from morguefile.com by Kakisky: “cobainmemorial.jpg” and “cobainhero.jpg”