Raising awareness of the realities of suicide can help people view these deaths with more understanding and compassion, realize the importance of helping others get help, and addressing their own mental health issues if they are struggling, says NAMI.
Below, experts dispel common myths about suicide.
Myth: Anyone who attempts suicide has a mental health issue.
One myth is “that only certain people have suicidal thoughts, people with mental health issues,” said clinical psychologist Michael Roeske, senior director of the Newport Healthcare Center for Research and Innovation.
“A lot of people don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a mental health disorder, but in very stressful situations, they lose an important job, they find out about infidelity with a longtime marital partner, and they’re like, ‘Oh , my God. I don’t know how I’m going to go on living.'”
Other factors may include life stressors such as criminal or legal cases, persecution, eviction or loss of home, grief, devastating or debilitating illness, trauma or other crises, according to NAMI.
Myth: People who attempt suicide are selfish
“There’s a derogatory connotation that comes with the word selfish, like someone is making this decision usually for a pleasant reason,” Roeske said. “Maybe myopia is a better way of saying that their focus becomes really limited to what’s immediately in front of them. And they’re not able to see the larger context of their life story, relationships and the dimensionality of things.”
People who attempt suicide or who die by suicide more often want to end their struggles or see themselves as a burden on those close to them, according to Roeske.
“It’s not a selfish play in the sense of someone making a decision for their own benefit,” he added. “It’s a decision based on the idea that ‘I don’t know how to get out of this moment. I feel so overwhelmed. I feel so stressed. I feel so sad that this opportunity to escape is what I need, and I don’t feel like I have any other choice.'”
Myth: People who threaten suicide seek attention
Some people believe that those who express suicidal thoughts are seeking attention, or that they are aware of the sympathy they might engender but have no intention of dying.
“Regardless of how you respond to it,” Roeske said, “you still have to take seriously the fact that there’s a kernel of truth — that this person really feels that (and) struggles that much.”
Myth: Suicide is a choice
“It’s a pretty big philosophical question: where does free will come from? Are we the consequence of our experiences?” Roeske said. The state of mind of a suicidal person is similar to that of someone suffering from drug addiction and chronic relapses, he said.
“They’re not deliberately choosing substances over their children. They’re not making the decision to harm their physical health or to be a bad employee or a poor citizen or to engage in illegal behavior,” Roeske said. Due to neurochemical changes, these people have a limited capacity for complete choice in terms of what they think is possible and what they can do.
There is a will in suicide, but suicidal thoughts can be so overwhelming that they crowd out everything else, Roeske said.
Myth: Talking about it will lead to or encourage suicide
One myth “is the fear that if you talk about suicide it’s going to encourage it, and so people walk away from it,” Roeske said. Asking someone about the warning signs you’ve noticed may seem awkward, but “it doesn’t actually lead to an increase in suicides,” he added.
According to NAMI, having honest conversations about suicide can help reduce stigma and empower people to seek help, rethink their options, and share their stories with others.
Myth: A better mood means the risk of suicide is gone
“The apparent lifting of the issues could mean that the person has made a firm decision to die by suicide and is feeling better because of that decision,” the report said.
The biggest indicator of risk for subsequent attempts is past suicide attempts or having had family members or friends who have attempted suicide, Roeske said.
How loved ones and experts react to a person’s suicide attempt could provide temporary relief or trigger supportive efforts, he added. But what initially prompted the person to attempt suicide may still be at stake.
Additionally, there is sometimes “an escalation in the lethality of the means,” Roeske said.
Myth: You can’t stop someone from attempting suicide.
Sometimes people think there’s no point in asking someone to kill themselves because they’ll do it anyway, said Justin Baker, clinical director of the Veterans Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative. at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
But Baker added that some research has shown that people can perceive interrupted or survived attempts as a “new breath”.
A similar myth is “once an individual is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal”, according to the NAMI website.
But there are factors that can influence the level or likelihood of suicide risk, Baker said. History of self-injurious behavior and genetic makeup are fixed factors, while dynamic factors constantly change because they are situation-specific, explains the NAMI.
Suicide “is often an attempt to control deep and painful emotions and thoughts,” says the NAMI website. “Once these thoughts have dissipated, so will suicidal thoughts. Although suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent. A person with suicidal thoughts and attempts can live a long and successful life.”
“People usually do what they want to do,” Roeske acknowledged.