Suicide is an enormous tragedy that causes a ripple effect on those both closely and distantly connected to those involved. There are many false assumptions surrounding suicide that misinform the public and can hinder its prevention. Gaining a deeper understanding of the truth can work to reduce suicide’s devastating prevalence. The National Alliance on Mental Illness shares five common misconceptions that keep suicide in a cloud of confusion and hopelessness.
#1: Suicide Only Impacts People with Mental Health Issues
Suicide and mental health conditions don’t always go hand-in-hand. While mental health issues (particularly depression) are associated with higher suicide rates, everyone goes through stressful situations in life that can produce suicidal thoughts.
Even the most stable or “well-adjusted” individuals may experience moments of feeling suicidal due to external circumstances. Studies show that 54% of people who die from suicide did not have a diagnosable mental illness. There is no predictable label for suicide. It can reach people from all walks of life and all states of mind.
#2: Once Someone Is Suicidal, They Will Be Suicidal Forever
Suicidal thoughts, like most emotions, are temporary. Although the feelings that lead to suicidal behavior are deep and painful, they don’t last forever. With proper support, it is possible to recover and never again contemplate suicide.
#3: Most Suicides Occur Without Warning Signs
Suicide often seems to occur unexpectedly, but this is because many people are not familiar with the warning signs to look out for. Understanding the risk factors can help you identify suicidal thoughts in others before they take action.
#4: Suicide Is Selfish and an “Easy Way Out”
Suicidal ideation is the result of profound mental anguish and hopelessness. Those who consider suicide do so out of desperation to end their suffering.
#5: Talking About Suicide Encourages It
Suicide is a heart-wrenching topic, and naturally, people are afraid to talk about it. However, staying silent only increases the stigma of suicide and keeps those who are suffering in the dark. Encouraging someone to share their story and speak freely about how they feel gives them better access to finding the help they so desperately need.
Identifying the Risk Factors for Suicide
No two people are exactly alike, but there are some common risk factors among those who commit suicide. While most of these risks probably won’t come as a surprise, it can be tough to recognize specific traits and patterns in those closest to us. Seeing our loved ones in a more objective light can help us evaluate how much danger they may be facing.
According to the CDC, individual, societal, relationship, and community factors can all influence the risk of suicide. These include a family history of suicide or child abuse, poor access to mental health care, alcoholism or drug abuse, harmful cultural or religious beliefs, a history of depression, and impulsive or aggressive behavior. Isolation, physical illnesses, or a recent loss (divorce, job loss, or financial loss) can also trigger suicidal thoughts. It’s impossible to know exactly how another person will react to life’s hardships. Reaching out to ask how they’re doing is a proactive first step.
How to Help a Suicidal Loved One
Trying to help a loved one who is contemplating suicide can be horrifying and overwhelming. However, there are steps you can take to make a difference. Start by asking the person directly if they are contemplating suicide. While you may think this could come across as a suggestion or put dangerous thoughts in another person’s head, the discussion opens the door for an honest conversation that can lead to positive changes.
Addressing the issue head-on, rather than shying away from it, gives the other person an invitation to deal with suicidal thoughts and seek support. Societal stigma against suicide can be one of the most significant barriers to getting help. By initiating the conversation, you create a safe space for feelings to be shared. Often, people contemplating suicide desire help but aren’t sure where to go or how to get it. A listening ear, followed by a helping hand (through offering resources and follow-up), can have a major impact on suicidal feelings.
This conversation is not easy to have. If you feel poorly equipped to take on such a sensitive topic, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline has some helpful do’s and don’ts to guide your conversation. These include listening without judgment, never agreeing to secrecy, staying calm rather than acting shocked and avoiding lectures. You don’t necessarily have to be a professional to help someone; you just have to be willing to try.
Beyond reaching out to talk, taking certain steps can help lessen the likelihood of suicide in someone who is at risk. For instance, if you know the individual has easy access to lethal means, such as firearms or dangerous drugs, work to reduce this availability and ensure a safe environment. Individuals who have become isolated due to depression might benefit from more active community participation. Invite them to a support group or encourage them to attend a social gathering.
If finances, drug abuse, or mental health issues are pushing someone towards the direction of self-harm, getting to the root of the problem will likely help. In most communities, financial resources, rehab centers, and mental health programs are available to those who need them. Contacting your local social services department is a good starting point to find help. YMCAs, local churches, senior centers, adult education programs, and libraries may also offer useful resources in dealing with these problematic issues.
In a crisis, it’s essential to act right away by seeking emergency assistance. Call 911 for immediate help. There are also several free and confidential resources for suicide prevention, including calling: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or using the Lifeline Crisis Chat for 24/7 access to a counselor across the United States.
Grieving a Death by Suicide
If the devastation of suicide has impacted you, there is help available to enable a healthy grieving process. Because suicide is highly stigmatized, it’s not unusual for the people closest to us to be unsure of how to react or show support. Just like those who struggle with suicidal thoughts, grievers often feel isolated or discouraged from expressing their emotions. Isolation prolongs the heartache and prevents healing from taking place.
A structured Grief Recovery Program teaches proven methods to embrace grief and work through it fully. Unfortunately, simply waiting for “time to heal” is not an effective strategy for handling grief. Grief Recovery requires active participation. There is no easy way to grieve, but there are opportunities to find solutions to your pain rather than suffering alone without hope of a better tomorrow.
Because of its disturbing nature, it’s not unusual to experience post-traumatic stress disorder when suicide hits close to home. PTSD can take a dramatic toll on our health and wellbeing, especially if left untreated. To learn more about dealing with PTSD, visit the National Institute of Mental Health, and speak with your doctor to find a qualified therapist who can help. By seeking support, you help break down the social barriers that keep so many others feeling trapped.