Debunking Common Myths About Suicide: A Compassionate, Informed Perspective

Benjamin Bonetti Therapy Online Coaching

As a society, we've never been more focused on mental health. Yet, despite this, many misunderstandings, misapprehensions, and misconceptions persist, particularly around suicide.

Suicide is a deeply complex and personal matter, affecting individuals, families, and communities in devastating ways. It is also a global public health issue, as confirmed by the World Health Organisation. To effectively address it, we must first debunk some of the common myths associated with it.

Myth 1: People who talk about suicide don't actually go through with it

This is one of the most dangerous misconceptions. The fact is, many people who die by suicide have talked about it or given clear warnings or signs. These signs can manifest verbally or behaviourally, such as expressing feelings of hopelessness, talking about death or suicide, or preparing for their death by making a will and organising personal affairs. Therefore, any talk of suicide should be taken seriously. Ignoring these signs can have tragic consequences. 

Myth 2: Only people with mental health conditions consider suicide

Whilst it is true that many individuals who die by suicide have a mental health condition, it is not the only factor. The Samaritans' research in the UK shows that suicide is far more complex, with many factors like unemployment, relationship breakdown, and chronic pain also being potential risk factors. It's a product of a combination of individual, relational, societal, and environmental factors. 

Myth 3: Asking about suicide can put the idea in someone's mind 

This myth is not only false but also harmful because it can prevent potentially lifesaving conversations from happening. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that asking someone about suicidal thoughts does not increase their suicide risk. In fact, broaching the subject can provide a sense of relief and can open up a channel for discussing their feelings and seeking help. 

Myth 4: People who are suicidal want to die

Contrary to this belief, most people who are suicidal do not want to die but to escape the unbearable pain they are feeling. They often feel overwhelmed by their situation and cannot see any other way out. This feeling of being trapped can lead to suicidal thoughts, making intervention essential. 

Myth 5: Once a person is suicidal, they will always remain suicidal 

This is a harmful and incorrect assumption. Suicidal thoughts can be transient. Crisis services, therapies, peer support, and medication are some of the many interventions that can help someone in a suicidal crisis see a way forward. Many people who have had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide have reported leading fulfilling lives following the appropriate support. 

Myth 6: People who attempt suicide are just seeking attention

This is a particularly damaging myth, as it undermines the severity of the person's emotional pain and the gravity of their situation. Anyone who expresses suicidal thoughts or attempts suicide is in considerable distress and needs immediate help and support. Labelling their actions as "attention-seeking" can deter them from reaching out for help in the future.

Understanding these myths is critical, but it is equally important to know what we can do when confronted with a potential suicide situation. It's crucial to maintain an open and non-judgemental conversation, ensure the person's immediate safety, and guide them towards appropriate professional help.

If you're worried someone might be suicidal, here's a practical guide based on the latest research from Mental Health First Aid England:

Approach them: Start by asking how they are feeling. Use open-ended questions and listen actively without judgement. Your aim is to make them feel understood, valued, and not alone. 

Validate their feelings: Acknowledge the pain they are feeling. You don't have to solve their problems; your role is to provide a safe space for them to express their feelings.

Ask about suicide: It's a difficult question, but it's important to ask directly and unambiguously, "Are you feeling suicidal?" This shows you're open to talking about it and can help them open up about their feelings.

Encourage them to get help: If they are feeling suicidal, it's important they get professional help. You can assist by providing information about available resources, like their GP, local mental health services, or helplines like Samaritans. 

Check-in with them: After your conversation, make sure to check-in to see how they are doing. This helps to demonstrate your ongoing support.

Remember, while it's essential to offer support, it's also important to know your limitations. If you're supporting someone who is suicidal, make sure you also have support for yourself. And remember, if someone's life is in immediate danger, always call emergency services. 

By dispelling myths around suicide, we can foster a more understanding and supportive environment for those experiencing such profound distress. Together, we can work towards breaking down stigma, promoting open conversations, and ultimately reducing the devastating impact of suicide.

Suicide prevention is everyone's business. We need to challenge these myths wherever we encounter them and promote understanding, compassion, and practical help. In doing so, we can all contribute to a society where fewer people reach the point where they feel suicide is their only option.

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