Suicide Myths Debunked and What to Do if a Loved One Shows Warning Signs

Date Posted

April 25, 2019


Myths vs. Facts

By Sharon Torres, April 30, 2019

Suicide is a serious global public health concern. According to the World Health Organization, one million people die by suicide annually worldwide. In the United States, it is the 10th leading cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites suicide as the second leading cause of death for people between ages 10 and 34.

Although in the U.S. we lose a person to suicide an average of every 13 minutes, mental health and suicide continue to be laden with shame, guilt, and social stigma.” Unfortunately, the stigma attached to suicide often prevents people who are experiencing suicidal ideation from seeking life-saving treatment. In addition, people who are suffering are deterred from getting help by their own feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, and people who might help them frequently carry misconceptions about suicide.

Helping someone who shows signs of suicidal behavior can be complicated even for professionals. Understanding misconceptions about suicide can help friends, family, and members of the community assist the person so they get the care they need.

Let’s debunk some of the common myths—and share the actual facts—about suicide.

Myth: People Who Talk About Suicide Will Not Do It

One common myth is that people who talk about dying by suicide are unlikely to do so. But this myth has been debunked. Many people experiencing suicidal thoughts will talk about their pain in some way. The person could say something direct like, “I should just kill myself.” Or, they may say something more passive, “I wish I didn’t have to wake up tomorrow.”

According to the CDC, some of the common warning signs for suicide are

  • Talking about harming oneself or wanting to die
  • Expressing intense hopelessness about life
  • Increasing their rate of drug and alcohol use
  • Isolating and reducing interactions with family and friends

Sometimes all that the person experiencing these thoughts of harming themselves needs is someone to listen to them. To learn more about how to talk with your loved one, read How to Help Someone With Depression.

Myth: Talking About Suicide Is A Bad Idea

It is generally believed that even mentioning suicide to someone indicating a desire to harm  themselves—let alone asking them if they’ve had suicidal thoughts—could encourage them to take their life. However, clinical tests have shown that talking to patients about the possibility of harming themselves does not increase the risk and could lead to better outcomes.

However, if a loved one is showing symptoms of suicidal behavior, you need to handle it with tact. You can bring up the issue by asking a simple question like, “Have you had thoughts of killing yourself?”

Myth: People Who Attempt Suicide Are Selfish

People who express their plan to hurt or kill themselves are usually undergoing a great deal of pain and their current coping skills are not sufficient to address it. Many people with suicidal ideation may not want to die. They may be feeling completely hopeless due to a frustrating life situation or as a symptom of a mental health condition. With the right interventions, they can receive treatment that restores their capacity to overcome these challenges.

How You Can Help

First, it is important to understand that treatment is a continuing process. Individuals with symptoms of suicidal ideation need to receive professional treatment to address any underlying issues.

If you identify a friend or a loved one with the warning signs, there are many things you can do to help:

Let Them Talk

  • Talking helps individuals who are thinking of harming themselves to ease their mental distress. Actively listen to how your loved one feels by maintaining eye contact, asking open-ended questions, paraphrasing what they say, and requesting clarification if you don’t understand something.
  • Don’t try to cheer them up as a solution to their feelings. Make sure you validate how they are feeling, “It sounds like you are experiencing a lot of pain. It must be really hard to feel that way.”

Identify Positive Coping Skills

  • People who contemplate harming themselves do not necessarily want to take their own life. Support your loved one by helping them identify positive coping skills like spending time with family, sitting with a pet, setting a realistic goal, or starting new exercise routines.

Provide Support

Support of family and friends is critical in the treatment of individuals experiencing suicidal ideation. The person’s distress is reduced by the presence of people who show compassion and understanding. Let your loved one know you care.

If you or a loved one actively struggle with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For immediate assistance contact your local emergency services by calling 9-1-1. 

Sharon Torres is a freelance writer who is chronicling her experiences through this thing called life. She believes that if you always move forward in life then there is no need to look back. Her favorite writer is Phillip K. Dick. Sharon ‘s blog:

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