Life, Death and Suicide: Addressing the Common Myths
"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live."
Suicide is a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about. Society has always had a morbid fascination with suicide. Though still considered taboo, it's not something we like to talk about or think of often. In the event of suicide, it is difficult for friends and family members to comprehend why someone would want to take their own life, feeling blamed for the problems that preceded the suicide, feeling rejected by their loved one, and stigmatised by others. There are many myths around suicide which need to be addressed in order to curtail suicide rates. For example, suicide is not a selfish act- it's an act of desperation and the person who commits suicide has made the decision that they cannot go on any longer.
Contrary to popular belief, people don't commit suicide because they want attention or are seeking revenge against someone else. There is no one reason why people commit suicide - there can be a number of factors such as depression, mental illnesses like low self-esteem or bipolar disorder, substance abuse problems and financial difficulties.
People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking someone whether he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:
Are you feeling sad or depressed?
Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?
Rather than putting thoughts in that person's head, these questions can provide assurance that somebody cares and will give him/her the chance to talk about problems.
Suicide is a real problem in society today, with suicide rates on the rise especially during this pandemic era. Hence, suicide prevention needs to be on everyone's minds in order to save lives. Suicide myths can be dangerous because they prevent us from understanding suicide and how to prevent it. There's not much more I can say other than suicide affects us all…
There are various myths around suicide which need to be smashed in order to help prevent suicide and manage any risks that may accompany it. Debunking the common myths associated with suicide can help society realise the importance of helping others seek treatment and show individuals the importance of addressing their mental health challenges. This blog post will discuss some of these common myths that we need to dispel to help prevent suicide from occurring so that nobody has to experience this pain again.
MYTH: Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.
FACT: Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication. Fears shared are more likely to diminish. The first step in encouraging a person with thoughts of suicide to live comes from talking about those feelings. A simple inquiry about whether or not the person is intending to end their life can start the conversation. However, talking about suicide should be carefully managed.
MYTH: People who talk about suicide never attempt or die by suicide.
FACT: Talking about suicide can be a plea for help and it can be a late sign in the progression towards a suicide attempt. People who kill themselves have often told someone that they do not feel life is worth living or that they have no future. Some may have actually said they want to die. It’s important to always take someone seriously if they talk about feeling suicidal. Helping them get the support they need could save their life. "The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die - they do not want to live the life they have."
MYTH: Suicide only affects individuals with a mental health condition.
FACT: Suicide is not usually the result of mental illness, though it can sometimes precipitate mental disorder or exacerbate existing conditions. While suicide rates among people with diagnosed bipolar disorders are higher than in general population, suicide accounts for only about 30% of all suicide deaths among young people. Relationship problems and other life stressors such as criminal/legal matters, persecution, eviction/loss of home, death of a loved one, a devastating or debilitating illness, trauma, sexual abuse, rejection, and recent or impending crises are also associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts.
MYTH: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning.
FACT: Warning signs—verbally or behaviourally—precede most suicides. Therefore, it’s important to learn and understand the warnings signs associated with suicide. Many individuals who are suicidal may only show warning signs to those closest to them. These loved ones may not recognise what’s going on, which is how it may seem like the suicide was sudden or without warning.
MYTH: Once an individual is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal.
FACT: Active suicidal ideation is often short-term and situation-specific. Studies have shown that approximately 54% of individuals who have died by suicide did not have a diagnosable mental health disorder. And for those with mental illness, the proper treatment can help to reduce symptoms. The act of suicide is often an attempt to control deep, painful emotions and thoughts an individual is experiencing. Once these thoughts dissipate, so will the suicidal ideation. While suicidal thoughts can return, they are not permanent. An individual with suicidal thoughts and attempts can live a long, successful life.
MYTH: If a person attempts suicide and survives, they will never make a further attempt.
FACT: A suicide attempt is regarded as an indicator of further attempts. It is likely that the level of danger will increase with each further suicide attempt.
MYTH: Once a person is intent on suicide, there is no way of stopping them.
FACT: Suicides can be prevented. People can be helped. Suicidal crises can be relatively short-lived. Immediate practical help such as staying with the person, encouraging them to talk and helping them build plans for the future, can avert the intention to attempt or die by suicide. Such immediate help is valuable at a time of crisis, but appropriate counselling will then be required.
MYTH: Marked and sudden improvement in the mental state of an attempter following a suicidal crisis or depressive period signifies the suicide risk is over.
FACT: The opposite may be true. In the three months following an attempt, a young person is at most risk of dying by suicide. The apparent lifting of the problems could mean the person has made a firm decision to die by suicide and feels better because of this decision.
MYTH: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
FACT: All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die. Do not dismiss a suicide attempt as simply being an attention-gaining device. It is likely the young person has tried to gain attention and, therefore, this attention is needed. The attention they get may well save their lives.
MYTH: Suicide is hereditary.
FACT: Although suicide can be over-represented in families, attempts are not genetically inherited. Members of families share the same emotional environment, and the death by suicide of one family member may well raise the awareness of suicide as an option for other family members and suicide may be a coping strategy for some family members.
MYTH: Young persons thinking about suicide cannot help themselves.
FACT: While contemplating suicide, young people may have a distorted perception of their actual life situation and what solutions are appropriate for them to take. However, with support and constructive assistance from caring and informed people around them, young people can gain full self-direction and self-management in their lives.
As a mental health practitioner and someone who has experienced the effects of suicide first-hand, it is my responsibility to make people aware of these misconceptions and help clear them up for others so they can learn more accurate information. It is my goal to help people understand that there is always hope in this life no matter what you have been through or will be facing. I hope you found this blog post helpful in debunking some of the common myths about suicide.
If you are feeling suicidal please reach out for support before doing anything else. You may not have thought about it before, but we are here to listen if there is anything on your mind that's weighing on you too heavily. It takes one moment of silence for another person in need to speak up—so please don't hesitate to reach out! You deserve happiness too! ❤️