By definition, a myth is “a widely held but false belief or idea; a misconception of the truth; an exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.” In common terms, a myth is simply a false story or belief. Oftentimes myths are shared and even created to teach lessons on what is good, right, evil, or moral. However, they are rarely, if ever, supported by research or actual data. The scary thing about myths, and fictitious information, is that they have slithered their way into our everyday common reality. There are stereotypes, stigmas, and distorted understandings of the reality we live in because of myths. This article primarily aims to reject falsified information about the myths of suicide that currently lurk in our society.
Myth #1: Suicides happen without warning.
According to the American Association of Suicidology, “most teens who attempt or die by suicide have communicated their distress or plans to at least one other person.” The University of Notre Dame also suggests that people will generally ignore the clues that lead up to suicide. These associations indicate that suicides are preceded with warning signs and the question that needs to be addressed is whether or not someone knows those signs and knows what to do when they recognize them. This acronym can help one remember the warning signs of suicide: HOPE-SQUAD
H - Hopelessness, feeling lonely or feeling like a burden
O - Openly talking about death or wanting to end one’s life
P - Prized possessions are given away
E - Eating (too much or too little)
S - Sleeping (too much or too little)
Q - Quits hobbies or other normal interests. Withdraws from normal social behaviors.
U - Using drugs or alcohol
A - Anxiety or depression
D - Dangerous / reckless behavior
Myth #2: Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.
It is becoming the norm in our society to lose face to face interactions with others, to dismiss uncomfortable topics, and to only focus on the good things in life as evidenced by social media trends. However, the topic of suicide, mental health, and other “taboo” subjects are more of a public health hazard than ever. Too long have these issues been swept under the rug or put on the back burner, not because they are not happening, but because we don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations with our kids, parents, or peers. It is time to rip the band-aid off of uncomfortable subjects and educate ourselves and our peers about the topic. It is time to adopt the phrase, “It is not weak to speak.”
The Office of Suicide Prevention states, “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.” This goes hand in hand with the famous quote, “The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that there is one.” The topic of suicide, when discussed openly and appropriately, can open opportunities for conversations and emotions that may have never been discussed previously.
Myth #3: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
First, any sign or talk of suicide should not be taken lightly. The act of suicide itself is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. With this in mind, we should ponder this quote by an unknown author, “We can judge others or we can love others, but we can’t do both at the same time.” It is true that oftentimes those who are contemplating suicide may tell someone about it because, inadvertently or not, they are crying out for help. To further correlate this important point, The Office of Suicide Prevention states, “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.” With the devastating consequences associated with the talk to suicide, discussion on the topic should be taken seriously every time.
Myth #4: Only people with mental disorders are suicidal.
The World Health Organization responds to this myth. They explain, “Suicidal behavior indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorders. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviors, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder.” Stress is felt by all people regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, or background. However, the reaction to stress, having a mental disorder or not, is different for everyone.
In a 2013 TED talk given by Kevin Breel called “Confessions of a Depressed Comic”, Kevin speaks about stigmas in our society around depression and mental illnesses. He states, “The stigma in our society about depression is very real. And if you think it isn’t, ask yourself this: would you rather make your next Facebook status say you are having a tough time getting out of bed because you hurt your back or you are having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you are depressed? ...We are so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains.” Kevin’s words bring truth to the topics of mental health and to the inevitable blame society gives on the individual for their condition. There are many individuals today who face mental challenges and insecurities. If we are to open doors in mental health, then as a society, we need to recognize that mental disorders are first real, second, that they are not the individual’s fault, and third, that they are not the end.
In conclusion, the Office of Suicide Prevention states, “These myths 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.” It doesn’t matter if something is labeled as a myth, a lie, or a fable. The fact is that if it is any one of those, then it is not truth. We cannot learn more about suicide and be able to prevent it if, as a society, we are in denial of the facts. I urge you to educate yourself in truth so that you can see the warning signs and triggers in those who may feel they are a burden to others. In doing this, the taboo subject of suicide will, in turn, be more preventable than ever before.
There are many more myths and stigmas about suicide not listed in the article. For more information regarding topics and resources discussed, please follow the links below.
By Dr. Greg Hudnall & Paula Dudley