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 particular to them.

To increase understanding about suicide and to better support those affected by suicide, we need to challenge commonly held myths and misconception. These false assumptions can feed stigma and discrimination and prevent individuals from seeking 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 declarative or definitive statements.

Talking about suicide or asking someone if they are suicidal is a bad idea and may put the idea in their head or be interpreted as encouragement.

There is no evidence that talking to someone about suicidal thoughts is harmful. In fact, talking and listening to someone with suicidal ideation can have a positive influence on them. It can reduce their fear and distress, remove the sense of loneliness and isolation, support them to seek help, reduce stigma and begin a path to recovery.

While it can be difficult to talk about suicide, research shows you can have a positive influence on someone who may be considering suicide by initiating a conversation with them and supporting them to seek help.

The main message is 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 if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.

You can ask the person directly if they are feeling suicidal or if they have been considering suicide. By discussing it openly and honestly, you are giving the person the opportunity to take the first steps towards getting the help they need.

It is normal to feel worried or nervous about having a conversation with a friend, 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 and may help them feel less afraid, rethink their opinions, share their story and be more in control.

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 to seek help.

There is a widespread stigma associated with suicide and as a result, many people are afraid to speak about it. Talking about suicide can reduce the stigma,

Active listening is the crucial counterbalance to talking about suicide. Listen 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.

# You Can Talk – National campaign

Conversations Matter – resources for discussing suicide

Suicide Call Back Service – discussing suicide

Beyond Blue – Having a conversation with someone you’re worried about

People who attempt or die by suicide suffer with mental illness or disorders.

Thoughts of suicide can happen to anyone regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness or disorder.

People living with a mental illness are at increased risk of suicide – up to seven times higher than the general population. 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 emotional distress or pain, relationship problems and other life stressors such as criminal/legal matters, persecution, eviction/loss of home, death of a loved one, a devastating or debilitating illness, trauma, sexual abuse, rejection, and recent or impending crises.

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 these websites.

Sane.org Suicidal Behaviour

Most suicides happen suddenly unexpectedly or without warning

Most people who are suicidal express signs of intent, however, they may only show warning signs to those closest to them. These loved ones may not recognise what’s going on, which is how it may seem like the suicide was sudden or without warning.

Some warning signs are direct, such as talking about hurting themselves or taking their own life. Others are indirect such as speaking abstractly about death, withdrawing from friends or family, or misusing alcohol and drugs.

People who are thinking about dying usually try to seek help. In fact, many people who attempt suicide visit a doctor in the months and weeks prior.

Further information on how to talk about suicide can be found at these websites.

Beyond Blue – Warning Signs

Someone who is suicidal wants to die and will always feel that way.

 The act of suicide is often an attempt to control deep, painful emotions and thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are often short-term and situation-specific, therefore 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 emotional support and the development of positive coping methods can lead to individuals who have experienced suicidal behaviour, living a long, healthy life.

Suicidal behaviour is manipulative or attention-seeking.

All suicidal talk and behaviours demand attention by way of a compassionate and immediate response.

Some people threaten 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 attention and support, regardless of how they express this need.

Expressions of pain, suffering or suicidality must not be trivialised or minimalised.

Not addressing a ‘cry for help’ can have tragic consequences.

Suicide is a selfish act

Individuals who experience suicidal ideations 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. They rationalise suicide as a way to protect those they care about. In their mind suicide as quite selfless.