Myths and misconceptions
Suicide myths and misconceptions
The reasons people take their own life are very complex. There is no single reason why a person attempts or dies by suicide. While there may be commonalities among individual lived experiences of suicide, each person’s circumstances are unique to them.
To increase understanding about suicide and to better support those impacted by suicide, we need to challenge commonly held myths and misconceptions. These false assumptions can feed the fear, prejudice and discrimination commonly disguised as stigma, and prevent individuals from connecting with the support they need.
Due to the complexity of suicide – and of life itself – it helps to avoid using absolutes such as all people, every attempt, or making definitive statements.
Myths and misconceptions
People who experience suicidal thoughts do not do so by choice. They are not simply ‘thinking of themselves’. Many people who attempt suicide feel they are a ‘burden’ to others, and that their friends and family would be ‘better off’ without them. While some people recognise that their death may cause their loved one’s pain, they may also believe they are causing more pain by being alive. Some people rationalise suicide as a way to protect those they care about. In their mind, suicide is quite selfless. Many people who have made an attempt on their life also share that at that time, their pain was so intense it was like tunnel vision, and they simply had no capacity to think of the people they love and who love them.
All talk of suicide and changes in behaviour demand attention by way of a compassionate and immediate response. Some people talk about ending their life or attempt suicide as a desperate plea to let others know they are in pain, not coping and need help. They may not know any other ways to express these feelings or believe that no one cares or can help. Individuals in suicidal crisis need to be heard, validated and offered support, regardless of how they express this need. Expressions of pain, suffering or suicidality must not be trivialised or minimalised. Listen and walk alongside the person to assist them connect with the support they say they need to address the underlying cause of their distress.
The act of suicide is often an attempt to control deep, painful emotions and thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are often short-term and situation-specific, not permanent.
People who attempt suicide are often ambivalent about their decision. The co-existence of opposing and conflicting feelings can be confusing. They may not really want to die, rather they want to bring an end to the pain or conflict and see suicide as the only option.
For those with mental illness, the proper treatment can help to reduce symptoms. Likewise, receiving the right support that addresses the underlying cause of the distress, and the development of positive coping methods can lead to individuals who have experienced suicidal thoughts, living a long, healthy life.
Most people who are suicidal express signs of their distress and intent to end their pain, however, they may only show warning signs to those closest to them. These invitations for help can be overt or extremely subtle. Family, partners, friends or colleagues may not recognise what’s going on, making it seem like the suicide was sudden or without warning.
Some invitations for help are direct, such as talking about death and dying, hurting themselves or taking their own life. Others are indirect such as speaking abstractly about death, withdrawing from friends or family, giving personal belongings to those they are close to, or misusing alcohol and drugs.
Further information on recognising some of the potential warning signs can be found at the below website:
Thoughts of suicide can happen to anyone regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness or disorder.
Some people living with a mental illness may be at increased risk of suicide. Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness, if untreated, may contribute to suicidal behaviour. For people with a mental illness, the distress caused by the illness can be so great they may feel an overwhelming desire to end their life. People recently discharged from psychiatric care are at higher risk of suicide. However, mental illness is not the only contributing factor and most individuals with mental illness are not affected by suicidal thoughts.
Some people attempt suicide on an impulse, often under the effects of alcohol or drugs. Other contributing factors may include:
- Death of a loved one
- Divorce or separation / relationship breakdown
- Jail term
- Transitioning gender
- Personal injury or illness
- Rejection from family
- Financial concerns / business adjustments
- Disconnecting from country
Studies have shown that approximately 54% of individuals who have died by suicide did not have a diagnosable mental health disorder
Further information on how to talk about suicide can be found at the below website:
There is no evidence that talking to someone about suicidal thoughts is harmful. In fact, research shows that talking and listening to someone with suicidal thoughts can have a positive influence on them. It may reduce their fear and distress, remove the sense of loneliness and isolation, support them to seek help, share their story, reduce stigma and begin a path to recovery.
You don’t need to be a clinician, a GP, or a nurse to check-in with someone you are worried about. It is OK to let someone know you have noticed they are struggling and ask them directly if they are feeling suicidal or if they have been considering suicide. By discussing it openly and honestly, you are offering the person the opportunity to be supported to connect with whatever help they feel would be most helpful for them.
It is normal to feel worried or nervous about having a conversation with a friend, partner, family member or work colleague who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, but there are resources available to help you.
Talking openly about suicide can come as a great a relief to someone who is thinking about it. In contrast, avoiding or tiptoeing around the issue can leave people feeling isolated and unheard.
The best policy is to try and help someone talk openly about how they are feeling and encourage them let you help them connect with support that will address whatever is causing their distress. Active listening is the crucial counterbalance to talking about suicide. Listen deeply without judgment. Don’t interrupt the speaker. Sit alongside them in their pain. Practice empathy, mindfulness, authenticity and compassion.
Further information on how to talk about suicide can be found at these websites.
- Conversations Matter – resources for discussing suicide
- Suicide Call Back Service – discussing suicide
- Beyond Blue – Having a conversation with someone you’re worried about