Myths About Suicide that Contribute to the Mental Health Stigma
Suicide is a difficult subject for most. It's hard to think about it, let alone mention it openly. Yet the decision to speak up is the only way to prevent the increase in fatalities.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more lives than even homicide. Despite this, suicide is still a taboo topic many are afraid to discuss candidly.
This contributes to the mental health stigma, which can prevent people from seeking help when they need it most. In order to combat effectively, we must dispel the myths about suicide that contribute to it. Let's start by talking about some of these myths.
Myth #1: People Who Talk About Suicide are Attention Seekers
Fact: People who talk about suicide often cry for help. They may not be sure how to express their feelings or may feel so hopeless that they see suicide as their only way out.
According to Western Michigan University, between 50 and 60 percent of all suicide victims informed a relative or friend of their plans in some way. So if someone you know is talking about suicide, take it seriously and get them help.
Don't dismiss it as attention-seeking behavior. Often, people experiencing suicidal thoughts want someone to listen to them and understand what they're going through. They might also feel troubled, helpless, confused, desperate, or alone.
Also pay attention to a person's behavior. If they are talking about suicide, withdrawing from friends and activities, or giving away prized possessions, these could be warning signs that they are in danger. This is especially true if they are also talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
Therefore, try to be direct when you talk to someone about suicide. Ask if they are thinking about harming themselves. Don't leave them alone if they say yes or indirectly express suicidal thoughts. Stay with them and remove anything they could use to hurt themselves, such as drugs, alcohol, knives, or firearms.
You can also take them to the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Myth #2: People Who Attempt Suicide are Just Weak-Willed
Fact: People who attempt suicide are not weak-willed. They are often in great pain and may feel like they have no other choice.
A single event or experience does not cause suicide. Many factors contribute to someone feeling suicidal, such as mental illness, trauma, relationship problems, job loss, or financial stress.
People who attempt suicide often feel like they are a burden to others and that their situation will never improve. They may also feel like they have no other option. So if someone you know has attempted suicide, don't judge them or tell them they are weak.
Rather, show them compassion and understanding. Let them know that you care about them and want to help. You can also encourage them to seek professional help—especially because suicidal thoughts can easily cross the minds of vulnerable people, regardless of age.
Consider this: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide rates have increased by 30 percent from 2000 to 2008. It's also the culprit for one death every 11 minutes. So if you can help someone talk to a therapist or receive treatment, you could save a life.
Myth #3: People Who Die by Suicide are Selfish
Fact: People who die by suicide are not selfish. They are often in so much pain that they see death as the only way to escape it.
Selfishness implies that the person is thinking only of themselves and not considering the effects their suicide will have on others. But people who are suicidal often feel like they are a burden to others and that their situation will never improve. They may also feel like they have no other way out.
So if someone you know dies by suicide, don't dwell on presumed thoughts of their selfishness. Show compassion and understanding instead. Let their loved ones know that you are there for them. Avoid making assumptions about what the person was thinking or feeling.
Myth #4: Once Someone is Suicidal, They Will Always Be Suicidal
Fact: Suicide is not inevitable. People who are suicidal often feel like their situation is hopeless and that things will never get better. But with the right help, they can and do get better.
Two years ago, the CDC released a report that found roughly 12.2 million adults in the United States earnestly contemplated suicide. Of those, 2.3 million made a plan, and 1.2 million attempted suicide.
The silver lining is that most people who attempt suicide do not go on to die by suicide. In fact, according to Very Well Mind, more than 60 percent of people who die by suicide have major depression at the time of their death.
It means that there is hope if you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts. If you are worried about someone, don't hesitate to talk to them about it to save their life. Help is available, and things can and do get better.
Myth #5: Only People With Mental Illnesses Die by Suicide
Fact: Suicide does not discriminate. While it's true that mental illness is a risk factor for suicide, plenty of people who die by suicide do not have a mental illness.
In fact, according to the CDC, more than half of people (54 percent) who die by suicide do not have a known mental health condition. So if you are worried about someone, don't assume they are not at risk just because they don't have a mental illness.
Other risk factors for suicide include relationship problems, job loss, financial stress, trauma, and chronic pain. We should pay attention to all these risk factors, not just mental illness, to help prevent suicide.
Myth #6: Suicide is a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem
Fact: Suicide is not a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is a permanent solution to what feels like an impossible problem.
Emotions and mental health can be incredibly overwhelming, and when someone is in the throes of mental illness, it can feel like they don't see any other way out. It's important to remember that suicide is not a decision made lightly; it's usually the result of someone feeling hopeless and helpless as if they will never get better.
Although emotions are temporary and aren't what make up a person's entire being, keep in mind that when someone is in the midst of a mental health crisis, those feelings are very real and powerful.
Hence, people suffering from these thoughts often need professional help and support to get through them. Showing compassion and understanding can go a long way in helping someone struggling with suicidal thoughts feel less alone.
Myth #7: Talking About Suicide Will Give Someone The Idea to Do It
Fact: Asking someone if they are thinking about suicide will not give them the idea to do it.
According to the CDC, asking someone about suicide will actually reduce their risk of dying by suicide. It shows that you care and are willing to talk about the hard stuff. It also allows the person to share what they are going through and get the help they need.
If you are worried about someone, don't be afraid to ask them if they are thinking about suicide. You'll make them feel heard and cared for, and you might save their life. You're also allowing them to get the help they need.
Likewise, you might discover less serious suicidal ideation that can be nipped in the bud before it worsens, or offer solutions that the person may not have considered.
Myth #8: You Can't Do Anything to Help Someone Who is Suicidal
Fact: You can do plenty of things to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Sometimes, the most important thing you can do is just be there for the person. Listen to them, validate their feelings, and tell them you care. Feeling heard and understood can make a big difference for someone struggling.
Even something as simple as cooking dinner for them, doing their laundry, or walking their dog can go a long way. Taking some of the load off their plate can give them much-needed breathing room. You don't have to be a mental health professional to make a difference. Simply showing that you care is enough.
You can also help by connecting the person to resources such as a therapist or a support group. You can even offer to go with them to their first appointment if they want. And if you are worried about someone's immediate safety, don't hesitate to call a suicide hotline or take them to the emergency room.
Myth #9: Most Suicidal People Give Warning Signs Before They Attempt Suicide
Fact: While some suicidal people give warning signs, most do not. In fact, according to the CDC, only about one-third of people who die by suicide give any kind of warning.
It means that it's important to be aware of the risk factors for suicide, even if the person isn't showing any warning signs. It includes major life changes or losses, a history of mental illness or substance abuse, access to lethal means, and feeling like a burden to others.
Pay close attention to people with multiple risk factors, as they are at a higher risk for suicide. And if you notice any changes in behavior, such as being more withdrawn, angry, or agitated, take it seriously and ask the person about it.
Don't dismiss extreme happiness and calmness as a good sign, either. It could actually be a sign that the person has made peace with their decision to die by suicide. So while it's important to be aware of warning signs, don't rely on them too much.
Myth #10: You Can't Talk About Suicide if You're Not Suicidal Yourself
Fact: Just because you're not suicidal doesn't mean you can't talk about it. On the contrary, talking about suicide can actually help prevent it.
Talking openly about suicide can be uncomfortable as the topic is often seen as taboo. But it's important to remember that suicidal thoughts are common. According to the CDC, 1 in every 25 adults in the US has suicidal thoughts in any given year. Children between 10 to 17 years old are not spared either, with 1 in every 100 kids having suicidal thoughts.
With data like this, there's a good chance you know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, even if they don't tell you. So normalizing the conversation around suicide can help reduce the stigma and make it easier for people to seek help.
Myth #11: Winter Months are the Most Common Time for Suicides
Fact: Suicide does not discriminate by season, with rates relatively consistent throughout the year. However, mental health professionals have noted an uptick in appointments and visits during the winter months due to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the holidays.
SAD is a form of depression directly linked to the change in seasons, with symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and social withdrawal. It can lead to an increased risk of suicide, and while SAD is treatable, many people don't seek help for it.
The holidays can also be difficult for people, as they can magnify feelings of loneliness and isolation. So if you know someone who is struggling during this time, make sure to check in on them and offer your support.
Myth #12: You Should Never Bring Up Suicide
Fact: If you're worried about someone, the best thing you can do is talk to them about it.
Contrary to popular belief, you will not make things worse by bringing up the topic of suicide. After all, most suicidal people are secretly relieved when someone finally confronts them. It gives them a chance to talk about their feelings and hopefully get the help they need.
If you're unsure how to bring up the topic, you can start by saying, "I've been worried about you lately. How are you doing?" If the person seems reluctant to talk, you can gently probe further by asking if there's anything on their mind.
Avoid giving advice or telling them what to do. Just let them know you're there for them and offer to help in any way you can. And if the person does open up to you, listen without judgment.
Many myths and misconceptions about suicide contribute to the mental health stigma. So, educating yourself on the facts is important to better support yourself or someone you know who may be struggling.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, Jackson House is here to help. We provide various mental health services, including counseling, therapy, and medication management. You deserve a life free from mental illness, and you can count on us to help you get there.
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