Suicide: Myths, Facts &
What You Can Do
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 – 34. However, it’s a topic that nobody wants to talk about and is often misunderstood. Below are some common myths related to suicide.
MYTH: If someone has it in their mind that they want to die, there is nothing you can do to stop them.
FACT: You CAN prevent suicide. Most people don’t actually want to die, but they are looking for a way to stop intense emotional or physical pain.
MYTH: A person who takes their own life is selfish, cowardly or looking for attention.
FACT: Suicide isn’t the result of a character flaw. More than 90% of the people who die by suicide having an existing mental illness (like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) or substance abuse problem at the time of their death. Early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.
MYTH: If you ask a person who seems depressed if they are thinking about suicide, you will plant the idea in their head.
FACT: Asking the question may help alleviate some of the emotional pain the person is feeling and starting the discussion may lead to finding solutions to the problems.
MYTH: Prohibiting access to potentially lethal methods of suicide doesn’t work because a person will just find another way.
FACT: Many suicides are impulsive so removing access to guns, medications, bridges (with bridge barriers), etc., gives the person an opportunity to change their mind and gives family members an opportunity to intervene.
MYTH: Someone who says they want to kill themselves is just looking for attention.
FACT: ALL threats must be taken seriously even if you don’t think the person will actually follow through. If the person is thinking and talking about wanting to die, they are at risk and are in need of help. You can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or your physician. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if the person is in a crisis situation.
What You Can Do
One of the most important things to do is educate yourself about the warning signs so you can spot them in a family member or friend and get them help. Warning signs include:
- Talking about killing themselves or having no reason to live
- Feeling trapped in life
- Talking about not being able to go on or dealing with the pain they are experiencing
- Talking about being a burden to family and friends, saying something like “everyone is better off without me”
- Acting reckless or aggressive
- Isolating themselves
- Giving away possessions
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Displaying rage, irritability, intense anxiety and depression
If you notice any of these signs, sit down and talk to the person. Although it might feel uncomfortable, it’s important for that person to know someone cares. Below are some tips from the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Visit their website for more in-depth information about prevention.
- Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Don’t dare him or her to do it.
- Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
- Take action. Remove means, like weapons or pills.
- Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Helpful Articles and Resources
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,1-800-273-TALK (8255) is available 24 hours a day, every day All calls are confidential.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has advice on what to do if you fear someone may take their life, and how to cope with a suicide loss.