September in the United States is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, although really every month should be suicide prevention month. We can all take actions in our everyday lives to normalize mental health and to support people who are considering suicide. Mental health is already a stigmatized topic, and suicide in particular is seen as a taboo topic that we shouldn’t talk about. Unfortunately, this line of thinking means that there is a lot of misinformation out there about suicide, and these myths do a lot of harm.
We are particularly afraid of what we don’t understand, and suicidality is baffling to many people and it is a uniquely painful subject to think about. It is okay if thinking or talking about suicide makes you uncomfortable. It’s important for us to have these conversations where we feel uncomfortable because that is how we can make changes. Taking the time to educate yourself on what is true and what is a myth about suicide can help take away some of the fear associated with the subject. It can also help you feel more prepared for talking about suicidality with others, which is an important part of prevention.
Here are myths about suicide that we need to clear up:
Myth 1: Asking someone if they’re considering suicide plants the idea
It makes sense that this would be a worry because it’s coming from a place of caring. You don’t want this person to harm themselves. However, it is untrue that asking someone if they’re considering suicide will give them the idea. Unfortunately, they probably have considered it before you brought it up. Speaking about suicide doesn’t have the power to harm people, but staying silent about mental health and the conditions that lead to suicide does have the power to do harm.
Myth 2: Someone who says they’re suicidal is just seeking attention.
This is a particularly distressing myth, because some people don’t take threats of suicide seriously because they see it as attention-seeking. Instead of looking for attention, someone who is speaking about ending their life or showing warning signs is really giving out a cry for help. Many people who are considering suicide are in an unbelievable amount of pain, and speaking up about it is very brave. Many people keep their thoughts of ending their lives to themselves because they’re worried about being seen as a burden or upsetting others, and this myth directly feeds into that idea.
Myth 3: Suicidal ideation and being actively suicidal are the same thing.
This post does a good job of explaining, but thoughts of suicide actually work kind of like a spectrum. There are lower level thoughts of suicide, like intrusive thoughts about self-harm or mortality. Someone can also have thoughts of suicide without intent or a plan, which is called suicidal ideation. Someone who is actively suicidal, on the other hand has an intent, a plan, or both to carry out the act. Someone who is actively suicidal is at immediate risk for harm, while someone who is experiencing suicidal ideation is in less immediate danger.
Myth 4: Suicide is unpredictable.
While it may be true that some folks end their lives with no warning, for many folks there are clear and persistent warning signs. It’s important for us to learn what the warning signs for suicide are. They include:
- Dramatic mood swings
- Behaving recklessly
- Giving away possessions + saying goodbyes*
- Buying a weapon or stocking up on pills*
- Withdrawing from social life
- Preoccupation with death
- Speaking about suicide
- Not caring about the future
- Major changes in sleep
*These are suicidal behaviors, and they are an emergency. If someone you know is tying up their loose ends and seemingly making preparations to say goodbye, please get them help. Many cities have emergency mental health crisis services, so you can make sure to get them appropriate help without putting them in further danger.
Myth 5: Suicide is selfish.
It can be unbearably painful to survive the suicide of a loved one, but it’s important to remember that suicide isn’t a selfish act. People don’t end their lives because they want to be dead. People end their lives because they want to end the suffering they feel.
Myth 6: Being suicidal is a permanent state.
Some people think that if someone is suicidal, they will always be that way. Thankfully, that isn’t the case. In many cases, suicidality is situational and specific. Someone may have experienced suicidal thoughts before, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t go on to live a normal and happy life after experiencing suicidal ideation. It’s also important to note that just because someone is suicidal doesn’t mean that they will always find a way to harm themselves – as stated above, many people who attempt or complete suicide don’t actually want to be dead, they want to be free of pain.