On World Suicide Prevention Day and beyond, awareness of the reality of suicide can help people view these deaths with greater understanding and compassion, realize the importance of helping others get help, and manage their own mental health problems when they do it. have a hard time, NAMI says.
Below, experts dispel common myths about suicide.
Myth: Anyone who tries to commit suicide has a mental illness
One myth is “that only certain people have suicidal thoughts, people with mental illness,” says clinical psychologist Michael Roeske, senior director of the Newport Healthcare Center for Research and Innovation.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a mental disorder, but in very stressful situations they lose an important job, find out about infidelity with a long-term marriage partner, and go, ‘Oh my god. I don’t know. how I should go on living.'”
Other factors can include life stressors, such as criminal or legal cases, persecution, eviction or loss, grief, a devastating or debilitating illness, trauma or other crises, according to NAMI.
Myth: People who try to commit suicide are selfish
“There is a derogatory connotation that comes with the word selfish, as if someone usually makes this decision for a pleasurable reason,” Roeske said. “Perhaps myopia is a better way of saying that their focus is really limited to what is directly in front of them. And they are unable to see the larger context of the history of their lives, the relationships and the dimensionality of things.” .”
People who attempt suicide or die from it more often want to end their struggle or see themselves as a burden to their loved ones, Roeske said.
“It’s not a selfish piece in the sense of someone making a decision in their own favor,” he added. “It’s a decision based on the idea that ‘I don’t know how to get out of this moment. I feel so overwhelmed. I feel so stressed. I feel so sad that this chance to escape is what I need , and I don’t feel like I have any other choice.'”
Myth: People who threaten suicide seek attention
Some people think that those who express suicidal thoughts are attention seekers, or that they are aware of the sympathy they can arouse but have no intention of dying.
“No matter how you react to it,” Roeske said, “you still have to take it seriously that there’s some truth inside—that this person really feels this (and) struggles so much.”
Myth: Suicide is a choice
“That’s a pretty big philosophical question: where does free will come in? Are we the result of our experiences?” said Roeske. The mindset of a person who is suicidal is similar to that of someone with substance abuse disorder and chronic relapses, he said.
“They don’t deliberately choose substances over their children. They don’t make the decision to harm their physical health or to be a poor worker or a poor citizen or to engage in illegal behavior,” Roeske said. Due to neurochemical changes, such individuals have a limited capacity for complete choice in terms of what they think is possible and what they can do.
There is some willpower in suicide, but suicidal thoughts can be so overwhelming that they crowd out everything else, Roeske said.
Myth: Talking about it will lead to or encourage suicide
One myth “is the fear that if you talk about suicide it will encourage it, and so people shy away from it,” Roeske said. Asking someone about warning signs you’ve noticed can feel uncomfortable, but “it doesn’t actually lead to more completed suicides,” he added.
According to NAMI, having honest conversations about suicide can help reduce stigma and empower people to seek help, reconsider their options, and share their stories with others.
Myth: a better mood means the risk of suicide is gone
“The apparent elimination of the problems could mean that the person has made a firm decision to die by suicide and is feeling better because of this decision,” it says.
The biggest indicator of risk for subsequent attempts is past suicide attempts or having family members or friends who have attempted suicide, Roeske said.
How loved ones and experts respond to someone’s suicide attempt can provide temporary relief or kick-start support efforts, he added. But what drove the person to attempt suicide in the first place may still play a role.
In addition, there is sometimes “an escalation in the lethality of agents,” Roeske said.
Myth: You can’t stop someone from attempting suicide
Sometimes people think it’s pointless to ask someone about suicide because they’re going to do it anyway, said Justin Baker, clinical director of the Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative for Veterans at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
But Baker added that some research has found that people may view interrupted or survived attempts as a “revival.”
A similar myth is “once a person is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal,” according to NAMI’s website.
But there are factors that can influence the level or likelihood of suicide risk, Baker said. A history of self-harming behavior and genetic makeup are fixed factors, while dynamic factors are constantly changing because they’re situation-specific, NAMI says.
Suicide “is often an attempt to control deep, painful emotions and thoughts,” says the NAMI site. “Once these thoughts go away, the suicidal thoughts will also disappear. Although suicidal thoughts can return, they are not permanent. A person with suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts can live a long and successful life.”
“People usually do what they want to do,” Roeske acknowledged.
“But there are things we can do along the way to mitigate some of the problems that arise for them,” he said. “It’s helpful to have that sense of various signs of suicide potential.”