To increase understanding about suicide and to better support those affected by suicide, we need to challenge commonly held myths and misconception about suicide.
Myth: All people who are at risk of suicide have depression or another mental illness
Thoughts of suicide can happen to anyone regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness. While risk factors for suicidal behaviour are associated with depression and other mental illnesses, the relationship is complex and people who have never experienced a diagnosable mental illness can experience suicidal thoughts.
Myth: People who think about suicide are selfish or weak
People who are thinking about suicide are experiencing intense and overwhelming negative feelings, and may not be able to see any other solution. They need personal and professional support, not judgement. Labelling someone’s behaviour can make it more difficult for the person to seek help. While it can be difficult to understand, some people believe that they are a burden on others and think their loved ones would be better off without them.
Myth: When someone is talking about suicide they are looking for attention
It is essential that any talk about suicide is taken very seriously. Whether they plan to go ahead with it or not, people who talk about suicide or threaten to take their own life are often thinking about suicide. You may not think the issues they are facing warrant taking their own life, but remember that their experience is different from yours. Talking about suicide may be a way to indicate they need support.
Myth: There is little warning if a person intends to take their own life
Most people who are suicidal do express signs of intent, but these are often not easy to recognise or understand. They may indicate their intent either directly (e.g. by talking about hurting themselves or telling someone about their plan to take their own life), or indirectly (e.g. by speaking abstractly about death or referencing suicide in poetry or artwork). If you have any concerns you should discuss these with the person, a health professional or another trusted person.
Myth: Asking someone if they are suicidal plants the idea in their head
One of the only ways to really know if a person is contemplating suicide is to ask. Asking someone if they are feeling suicidal, may feel difficult or scary, but it shows that you care.
It is often a relief for a person to have someone recognise the seriousness of their distress and to be given permission to talk about it in a caring and non-judgemental manner. Suicide prevention experts generally agree that asking someone whether they are thinking about suicide will not increase their risk.
Myth: It is impossible to stop someone intent on suicide
Suicide is not inevitable and may be prevented. Immediate practical help can deflect their suicidal intentions in the short-term. Stay with the person, encourage them to talk about how they feel and help them to plan for the future. Seek professional and social support to help them in the long-term.
Myth: Once someone has attempted suicide and survived, it means they’ll never try again
A suicide attempt is regarded as a risk factor, and it’s likely that the level of danger will increase with each subsequent attempt. The risk is high for the first three months to a year after an attempt and then declines, but remains throughout the person’s lifetime.