Myths About Suicide

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Despite mental health coming to the forefront in the last few years, the one thing that still gets talks about in hushed tones or is misrepresented is suicide. What are the myths about suicide we all need to keep talking about?

10 Myths about suicide

Here are ten myths about suicide it's helpful to know and share with your friends. Together we can change the misinformation and start helping the ones we love.

[Have a friend or loved one who is suicidal? Read our article, 'How to Help Someone Feeling Suicidal'. Is it you who is suicidal? If you are in real danger of hurting yourself please contact emergency services at 999 or go straight to A&E.]

1. Only mentally ill people end up suicidal.

Yes, it is true that there are several mental health issues like depression and addiction that raise your risk of suicide. But people who have never before suffered mental health issues can suddenly decide that an overwhelming experience is too much for them, whether that is losing all their money or being shamed by their community.

2. If you ask someone if they are feeling suicidal it can encourage them.

This is one of the most dangerous myths of all. If someone is already suicidal they will know more about what suicide involves than you, it’s hardly likely you will plant ideas in their head.

On the other hand, not talking about suicide can mean you miss a chance to help save a life. Talking and good listening create connection and helps someone feel less alone, both of which lower risk.

3. Suicidal behaviour is often just about attention seeking.

There are many far easier ways to get attention in life. If someone is threatening suicide, it’s generally because they are under so emotional pain they are struggling to see other ways forward, not as they simply want your time and energy.

And yes, this is also the case in those who have borderline personality disorder (BPD). The most recent study found that 5.9% of borderline patients took their own lives compared to 1.4% of comparison subjects who didn't have BPD. So emotional pain in those with BPD is more than real and not just about attention, despite any myths to the contrary.

4. Suicide often has no warning signs.

Although you’ll often see headlines of relatives and friends who ‘had no idea’ someone was suicidal, this speaks more to our communication and connection problems as a society than to suicide itself. There are always markers that someone is feeling suicidal.

Warning signs can include:

  • sudden changes in behaviour like irritability or aggression
  • talking or joking about death or being a burden on others
  • socially withdrawing and not responding to contact
  • getting affairs in order like making a will
  • increased substance abuse/ risky behaviours
  • acting oddly happy and calm after a period of despair.

5. If someone has really decided to die, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

False. Suicide is highly preventable. It is based on distorted thinking and emotional pain, two things that are treatable.

Suicide isn't even generally because people want to die at all. It's simply as they can't see a way out of a difficult situation or their own pain.

6. Suicidal tendencies are genetic.

No, it isn’t. It is true, however, that there can be mental health issues that have a genetic proponent which then raise your risk of being suicidal. This includes things like major depressive disorder and addictions.

And learned behaviours that cycle through families can put someone more at risk. This looks like things such as abuse, lack of parent-child attachment, and poor communication and support.

7. It’s a certain type/ class/ culture of person who ends up suicidal.

No. Suicide can and does affect every single race/ gender/ sex/ socioeconomic background/ culture/ religion.

Statistics can sometimes make it seem this isn’t so, but it’s important to recognise that there are many inconsistencies with reporting deaths as suicide.

In some countries, for example, suicide is still a criminal act. An in some cultures and religions it is seen as shameful. So families will go out of their way to hide if a death was a suicide. And each country has different rules around reporting deaths as suicide or not, meaning many cases are listed as ‘accidental death’.

8. More women are suicidal than men.

In Western countries women come out with higher levels of 'suicidal ideation', which is thoughts about suicide.

But when it comes to the act of suicide, statistics consistently show that it’s men who are more likely to go through with it.

Recent data put out by the Samaritans shows that here in the UK, men are 3.1 times more likely to carry through with a suicide then women. That said, rates amongst men are dropping more than rates amongst women.

9. Young people are the most vulnerable to suicide.

Perhaps we hear about teen suicide more as it’s always such a tragedy to see a young life lost, and as so many films and television shows seem to focus on teen girls with suicidal tendencies. But it’s actually the 45-54 age range that is at most risk amongst females.

And since 2010 the Office of National Statistics has yearly reported men aged 45-64 as having the highest suicide rate in Britain.

10. Someone who already attempted suicide wouldn't then try again.

To the contrary. A failed suicide attempt makes someone much more vulnerable to suicide than others.

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