COMMONLY-HELD INCORRECT BELIEFS ABOUT SUICIDE
These myths of suicide stand in the way of providing assistance for those who are in danger. By removing the myths, those responsible for the care and education of young people will be more able to recognize those who are at risk and provide the help that is needed.
MYTH: Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.
FACT: Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication. Fears that are shared are more likely to diminish. The first step in encouraging a suicidal person to live comes from talking about those feelings That first step can be the simple inquiry about whether or not the person is intending to end their life. However, talking about suicide should be carefully managed.
MYTH: Young people who talk about suicide never attempt or complete suicide.
FACT: Talking about suicide can be a plea for help and it can be a late sign in the progression towards a suicide attempt. Those who are most at risk will show other signs apart from talking about suicide. If you have concerns about a young person who talks about suicide:
- Encourage him/her to talk further and help them to find appropriate counseling assistance.
- Ask if the person are thinking about making a suicide attempt.
- Ask if the person has a plan.
- Think about the completeness of the plan and how dangerous it is. All suicidal intentions are serious and must be acknowledged as such.
- Encourage the young person to develop a personal safety plan. This can include time spent with others, check-in points with significant adults/ plans for the future.
MYTH: Attempted or completed suicides happen without warning.
FACT: The survivors of a suicide often say that the intention was hidden from them. It is more likely that the intention was just not recognized. These warning signs include:
- The recent suicide, or death by other means, of a friend or relative.
- Previous suicide attempts.
- Preoccupation with death or expressing suicidal thoughts.
- Depression, conduct disorder and problems with adjustment such as substance abuse, particularly when two or more of these are present.
- Giving away possessions, making a will or other final arrangements.
- Major changes in sleep patterns - too much or too little.
- Sudden changes in eating habits, losing or gaining weight.
- Withdrawal from friends, family or other major changes.
- Dropping out of group activities.
- Personality changes such as nervousness, anger, impulsive or reckless behavior, or apathy about appearance or health.
- Frequent irritability or unexplained crying.
- Lingering expressions of unworthiness or failure.
- Lack of interest in the future.
- A sudden lifting of spirits, when there have been other indicators, may point to a decision to end the pain of life through suicide.
MYTH: If a person attempts suicide and survives, they will never make a further attempt.
FACT: A suicide attempt is regarded as an indicator of further attempts. It is likely that the level of danger will increase with each further suicide attempt.
MYTH: Once a person is intent on suicide, there is no way of stopping them.
FACT: Suicides can be prevented. People can be helped. Suicidal crises can be relatively short-lived. Suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem. Immediate practical help such as staying with the person, encouraging them to talk and helping them build plans for the future, can avert the intention to attempt or complete suicide. Such immediate help is valuable at a time of crisis, but appropriate counselling will then be required.
MYTH: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
FACT: All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die. Do not dismiss a suicide attempt as simply being an attention-gaining device. It is likely that the young person has tried to gain attention and, therefore, this attention is needed. The attention that they get may well save their lives.
MYTH: Suicide is hereditary.
FACT: Although suicide can be over-represented in families, it is attempts not genetically inherited. Members of families share the same emotional environment, and the completed suicide of one family member may well raise the awareness of suicide as an option for other family members.
MYTH: Depression and self-destructive behavior are rare in young people.
FACT: Both forms of behavior are common in adolescents. Depression may manifest itself in ways which are different from its manifestation in adults but it is prevalent in children and adolescents. Self-destructive behavior is most likely to be shown for the first time in adolescence and its incidence is on the rise.
MYTH: All suicidal young people are depressed.
FACT: While depression is a contributory factor in most suicides, it need not be present for suicide to be attempted or completed .
MYTH: Once a young person is suicidal, they will be suicidal forever.
FACT: Most young people who are considering suicide will only be that way for a limited period of their lives. Given proper assistance and support, they will probably recover and continue to lead meaningful and happy lives unhindered by suicidal concerns.
MYTH: The only effective intervention for suicide comes from professional psychotherapists with extensive experience in the area.
FACT: All people who interact with suicidal adolescents can help them by way of emotional support and encouragement. Psychotherapeutic interventions also rely heavily on family, and friends providing a network of support.
MYTH: Break-ups in relationships happen so frequently, they do not cause suicide.
FACT: Suicide can be precipitated by the loss of a relationship.
MYTH: Suicide is much more common in young people from higher (or lower) socioeconomic status (SES) areas.
FACT: The causes of suicidal behavior cut across SES boundaries. While the literature in the area is incomplete, there is no definitive link between SES and suicide. This does not preclude localized tendencies nor trends in a population during a certain period of time
MYTH: Every death is preventable.
FACT: No matter how well intentioned, alert and diligent people's efforts may be, there is no way of preventing all suicides from occurring.