Suicide myths and misconceptions
As someone who has contemplated suicide myself, it has always amazed me how little people truly understand about depression, mental health and suicidal behaviour. This is even more surprising when you stop to consider that close to 800,000 people die by suicide each year – with numbers on the rise, especially in the current climate.
We asked mental health professionals to help set the record straight about what suicide is and isn’t, what a suicidal person might be going through, and the best way to approach them.
Assumption: If a person is determined to end their life, there is nothing you can do
Why that’s wrong: Some people think that suicidal people can reach a stage where they’re “too far gone.” Not true. “Because suicide is such a drastic step and goes against our fundamental urge toward self-preservation, most suicidal people are not 100 percent sure of themselves,” says psychiatrist Adam Rosenblatt, MD. “Part of them wants to die and part of them believes there may be hope, or wants to go on living, or at least realises the terrible consequences for their friends and family if they were to kill themselves. That is the part we are trying to reach.”
Really, what they are looking for in suicide is a way out – a way to stop feeling such immense pain. It is never too late to extend your hand and help them find a safer solution.
Assumption: Asking a suicidal person to talk about it will just push them over the edge
Why that’s wrong: Suicide is a very sensitive subject, so it’s natural to be afraid that something you say may only make matters worse. In reality, the opposite is true. “They may actually be grateful to have an opportunity to confess this to a helpful person,” says Dr Rosenblatt. “The best way to find out if someone is having suicidal thoughts is to ask. Just come out and say something like, ‘I’ve been very worried about you. You seem so despondent. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I need to ask if you have been having any thoughts that life is not worth living, or even thoughts of hurting herself? I want to help you feel better.’”
Someone who is suicidal is likely waiting and hoping for someone to reach out to them.