5 myths about suicide and ways to help

5 myths about suicide and ways to help

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, or effects of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 

May is mental health awareness month. Jenni Earle is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues and supporting mental health organizations. Earlier this year we identified The Trevor Project as the recipient of our annual donation. The organization is dedicated to ending suicide in LGBTQ youth. Overall we decided to focus on suicide as a mental health topic. We read, researched and talked about ways to become more aware about suicide, and how to help those around us. 

Talking about suicide can be difficult. If you don’t struggle with a mental health condition, or if you haven’t experienced suicidal thoughts it can feel taboo to talk about: what if you say the wrong thing? It is important for all of us to educate ourselves so that we can feel even the tiniest bit equipped to have a conversation if needed. 

There are many myths about suicide that form our assumptions about the act of suicide and with mental conditions that lead to suicide. Below are five common myths that we debunked. Information comes from The National Alliance on Mental Health Awareness (NAMI), The Mayo Clinic, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  1. Talking about suicide to someone can encourage suicidal behavior

There are stigmas around mental health conditions and suicide and silence only allows those stigmas to become the norm. Conversations about suicide need to be managed carefully, but a suicidal person doesn’t necessarily need to be treated like a bomb that will explode at the mere mention of the word. Talking about fears can help diminish them. We usually feel better after talking about something. Thoughts of suicide can operate the same way. Be direct and start a conversation. The first step can be the most important. 


2. People who threaten suicide are just looking for attention.

All suicide attempts and threats of suicide need to be treated seriously. There is no way to know for sure if it is merely a call for attention, and assuming that it is could leave someone without the help they need. Let’s unpack the ‘call for attention’ myth more deeply: if someone is calling for attention, the attention is needed. Period. The question of whether or not someone who threatens suicide actually means it is not addressing the person who is struggling; assuming a threat is ‘only for attention’ is witholding exactly what someone needs: your attention, a conversation, professional help.


3. Only people with a mental health condition can be suicidal

NAMI debunks this so well: “Many individuals with mental illness are not effected by suicidal thoughts and not all people who attempt or die by suicide have mental illness.” Suicide is not always connected to mental illness. We cannot know the internal experiences of those around us and so it may be the loud, popular friend who struggles with thoughts of suicide. The co-worker who is taking anti-depressants and hardly speaks at office parties might be getting the help they need. The point is: stereotyping people, mental illness, and suicide is dangerous. 

Don’t assume, and listen to those around you.


4. Most suicides happen without warning

While it is not always possible to know, or predict suicide/suicide attempts, educating yourself on warning signs can help you start a conversation or connect a friend to the help they need. 

  • Sudden behavioral changes: withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • The recent suicide of a friend or family member
  • Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits / weight
  • Giving away prized possessions

Ask about these behaviors, start a conversation. Showing that you care can be the first step.


5. The only help a suicidal person can get is from a counselor or health professional

Professional psychotherapists are the experts, there is no denying that. Ultimately a suicidal person needs to get professional help. Yet, therapy for someone struggling with suicidal thoughts often relies on the social network of friends and family. Support is an important part of recovery and healing. Often it is a friend, co-worker, teacher or parent that connects a suicidal person with the professional help they need. 

It can feel like a burden to speak to someone about suicide–yet another sign that the topic needs to be treated seriously and respectfully. The last piece of advice is to not take full responsibility for someone’s suicidal treatment, support and recovery. We can all do our part to notice warning signs, start conversations and provide a listening ear, but unless you are a professional therapist you are not equipped to provide all the care a suicidal person needs. Seek out help so that you can help better. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, or effects of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 

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