There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.
Suicide is surrounded by more stigma than any other emotional wellness topic.
It’s also clouded by persistent misinformation and unnecessary confusion.
Fortunately, when it comes to suicide prevention, there’s a lot we know. And knowledge is an important step toward breaking through stigma and saving lives.
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, we’re debunking 3 myths about suicide:
1. A suicide attempt is a “cry for help”
One of the most harmful myths about suicide is the idea that it’s a form of manipulation or “acting out” for attention. While, in many cases, a suicide attempt will elicit a supportive response, it’s simply untrue that this is the goal behind every attempt. Typically, a person experiencing suicidal thoughts and intent is in severe emotional distress, and desperately seeking relief.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- Speak up. Correcting this myth when you encounter it is one meaningful way you can help combat the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health, in general.
- Assume it’s sincere. When someone expresses an intent to harm themselves, take it seriously. Share your concern, encourage them to seek support, and offer to help them access support if needed.
2. Suicide can’t be predicted
When news breaks of a person who has died by suicide, it can feel shockingly sudden, as though it came completely out of the blue. And while it’s true that suicide can occur without clear warning, in most cases, there are indicators of suicide risk. By increasing your awareness of the facts about suicide risk, you’ll be better equipped to notice risk factors when you encounter them.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- Be mindful of potential warning signs, such as:
- marked changes in mood and/or behavior (e.g., irritability, social withdrawal)
- increased alcohol or other substance use
- statements about one’s own death or plan to end one’s life
- making arrangements to give away possessions or “tie up loose ends”
- saying final good-byes and/or making sudden apologies
- engaging in high-risk behaviors
- accessing lethal means (e.g., firearms)
3. Suicide can’t be prevented
Of all the myths about suicide, this is perhaps the easiest to understand, as suicide certainly can appear unpredictable. It’s crucial to remember, however, that we can– and should– take reasonable prevention measures to address the risk of suicide. From harm reduction to de-stigmatization to mental health advocacy and social support, there are many channels through which you can play an active role in suicide prevention.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
- Know the risks. Familiarize yourself with the types of factors that increase risk for suicide.
- Minimize risk. Take a closer look at your habits, lifestyle, and environment, and make any changes to promote your health and safety.
- Take the simple opportunities. Some of the most potent antidotes to stigma are hiding in plain sight, in our daily interactions. For instance:
- When you greet a coworker or neighbor: Ask how things are going. Stand still, make eye contact, and really listen. (And when they ask you how you’re doing, answer honestly.)
- When you’ve found something that helps you practice self-care: Talk about it. Share the apps and other resources that have helped you.
- When you see or hear something (e.g., in a movie, on the radio, at the office) that perpetuates mental health stigma: Call it out. Let your spouse, kids, friend, coworkers, etc. see your reaction in the moment. Voice your objection more formally by offering feedback to the network, radio station, etc. Bring the topic up when you’re with others; start a conversation by asking what they think.
- Speak up when you’re concerned about yourself or someone else. See this post for specific steps you can take.
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Did any of these myths about suicide surprise you? Looking for a safe space to find support?