Myths Vs Facts
Suicidal thoughts and how to talk about them can be confusing. Let’s set the record straight on some common myths about suicide.
Suicide occurs across all age and demographic groups and is the 2nd leading cause of death for college students. Some populations are at greater risk for suicidal thoughts than others, such as:
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People bereaved by suicide
- People in justice and child welfare settings
- People who intentionally hurt themselves (non-suicidal self-injury)
- People who have previously attempted suicide
- People with medical conditions
- People with mental and/or substance use disorders
- People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender
- Members of the military and veterans
- Men in midlife and older men
Though some populations have higher risk, anyone is capable of having suicidal thoughts – no matter how popular, successful, or healthy, and even if they do not seem to have any “problems.”
Some individuals express thoughts of suicide or make suicidal gestures as a way to get the help or assistance they need. Giving them your time may save their lives. Always take expressions of suicidality seriously – start a conversation or refer the person to a qualified professional.
While self-harm behaviors can be a risk factor for future suicidality, many people who engage in these behaviors do not have suicidal thoughts or intent. Suicidal thoughts are often focused on escape and ending pain, self-harm behaviors are often described as an escape from emotional numbness and a desire to feel or distract from distress. Still, self- harm behaviors are not a sustainable coping strategy and should be addressed with a counselor or other trusted person.
Only a fraction of people who are depressed will attempt suicide. Over 90% of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health disorder, including disorders besides depression (NAMI, 2017); that means close to 10% of suicides are completed by individuals who may not have a history of mental health concerns. People attempt suicide for many reasons, from chronic feelings of depression to receiving life- changing news. Despite the reason, all people contemplating suicide can benefit from talking to a mental health professional.
Counterintuitively, it is when depressive symptoms start to improve that an individual is at most risk for making a suicide attempt. This is because motivation often improves when depression improves, which makes it more likely that a suicidal thought will turn into a suicidal gesture. So, just because a person’s depression seems to be getting better does not mean that the risk of suicide has decreased.
Many suicidal individuals do not want to die, they simply cannot bear the pain in their lives and feel there is no other option.
This is simply not true — talking about suicide does not cause suicide! Engaging in a conversation with someone about suicide does NOT increase the likelihood that they will attempt suicide. Even if you are nervous or don’t know what to say, asking about suicide can normalize seeking help and show that you care. For tips on how to start the conversation.
Substance use is a significant risk factor for suicidality, especially a sudden and drastic increase in substance use. Alcohol and other drugs decrease inhibition, making it easier for a suicidal thought to become a suicidal action.
Knowing a friend or loved one who has attempted or has died by suicide puts you at a higher risk for making a suicide attempt in the future. Unexpected loss or grief can be devastating, make sure you are taking care of yourself.
Simply because someone is open about their suicidality does not mean that they will not eventually make a suicidal gesture. Someone who makes comments, jokes, or even threats about suicide is inviting you to listen and could likely use support.
Very few suicide attempts are completely impulsive; usually a person has given it significant thought and has exhibited warning signs.
One of the most significant risk factors for suicide is a history of previous attempts. While some people survive suicide attempts and recognize alternative coping strategies for the future, many others experience persistent and active thoughts of suicide. Just like it’s easier for you to attempt a task you have attempted in the past, those who have made a suicide attempt in the past tend to experience fewer barriers to trying again.
Many people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts tend to exhibit warning signs. Intervening when these warning signs appear and connecting someone experiencing suicidal thoughts to resources can be life-saving
Suicide can be prevented by taking care of yourself. Self-care is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and you are worthy of it. Being more attuned to yourself and what you need may help you better identify a moment of crisis.