Debunking 17 Common Suicide Myths
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
It's important to always remember two things: Mental health is treatable and suicide can be prevented. Even so, a total of 46,000 people died from suicide in the United States in 2020, and 1.2 million people attempted suicide. Almost every eleven minutes, an American dies by suicide; roughly every 40 seconds, someone worldwide dies by suicide.
Overall, suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is a global phenomenon. And, while this affects each and every one of us, there are still misconceptions about suicide. So, let’s debunk the most common suicide myths so that appropriate and effective intervention can take place.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know is struggling, reach out for help as soon as possible. Text “BRAVE” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
1. Myth: Individuals with mental illness are more likely to commit suicide.
Fact: Suicidal thoughts do not affect all people with mental illness, and not all people who die or attempt suicide are mentally ill. The presence of relationship issues or other life stresses, such as a legal dispute, home loss, illness, or trauma, is often associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts.
2. Myth: A lot of people commit suicide "out of the blue."
Fact: The vast majority of people who take their lives have communicated their intent beforehand, either in blatant or subtle ways.
3. Myth: Those who commit suicide are unwilling to ask for help.
Fact: Most victims of suicide sought help within six months prior to their death, according to studies.
4. Myth: Asking someone if they have suicidal thoughts is dangerous.
Fact: Someone will not be motivated to commit suicide if you ask them directly. Those who struggle with suicidal thoughts may wish to be heard and validated but struggle with figuring out how to do so. By starting this conversation with someone who has had these thoughts, you can help them talk about their struggles and get connected to important resources. No matter how they react, having the conversation will let them know you care about their safety and that you are there for them.
5. Myth: A suicide risk goes away when the person feels better.
Fact. If someone appears better, and their mental health has improved, hopefully, they are no longer considering suicide. However, it’s also possible that this apparent mood increase is indicative of increased suicide risk. A suicidal person might feel relieved at the decision that they've made - that they’ve finally settled on whether they should live or die. In order to determine whether a decrease or increase in suicide risk is associated with an improved mood, it’s crucial to have an open dialogue about suicide.
6. Myth: People who want to die will always find a way.
Fact: In most cases, you will find that people who are suicidal are highly ambivalent (uncertain) about it. In other words, they’re torn between the desire to live and the desire to die.
7. Myth: If someone is suicidal, they will always remain suicidal.
Fact: It is common for suicidal ideation to be short-term and situation-specific. The majority of people who die by suicide, 54% of them, don't suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. For people with mental illness, appropriate treatment may reduce symptoms.
It is common for suicides to result from an individual's attempt to control deep, painful feelings and thoughts. In time, the suicidal thoughts will also disappear. However, there is no guarantee that suicidal thoughts will never return. But, individuals who have attempted and thought about suicide can also still live long and successful lives.
8. Myth: People talk about suicide, or threaten suicide just to get attention.
Fact: Suicide threats and talk should be taken seriously. Up to 80% of suicidal people indicate their intentions to others, hoping they will be regarded as cries for help. Suicide jokes or threats, or references to death are common signals of suicidal tendencies. Taking them seriously and asking them if they mean what they’re saying could result in finding out that they were only joking. The consequences of not asking could be far worse.
9. Myth: The tendency to commit suicide is inherited and can be passed down through generations.
Fact. Because suicides are known to run in families we assume that it’s inherited. But, it’s also common for individuals without a family history of suicide to commit suicide.
10. Myth: Someone who has their life together, such as having a decent job, is not at risk of suicide.
Fact: All people, regardless of age, race, gender, life experience, and more, can suffer from suicidal thoughts and actions. Although a person's life might appear perfect from the outside, their inner struggles may be much deeper. We are all susceptible to mental health challenges. It is therefore important to check on your friends and family, even if they appear to be fine.
11. Myth: Young people do not think about suicide, because they have the rest of their lives to live.
Fact: In young people ages 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Occasionally, even children under the age of 10 commit suicide.
12. Myth: Suicide is more common during the holiday season.
Fact: It’s true that the holidays can be a time of togetherness, but they can also cause depression among people who feel alone or stressed during this time of year. Yet, contrary to common belief, suicides don't peak during this time of year. Rather, the peak is in the spring. Since there isn't a consistent explanation as to why this happens, it's best to disregard any beliefs that sunny days and blooming flowers will make the pain of someone suffering go away. You should rather offer them sympathy and follow up with them regularly.
13. Myth: Suicide victims take the easy way out out of selfishness.
Fact: Suicide is not to deprive oneself of life; rather, it’s to end suffering by ending one's life. It is so painful for these individuals that they feel hopeless and helpless. A person experiencing suicidal ideations does not do so voluntarily. Rather than simply thinking about themselves, they are experiencing a significant serious mental health problem caused by mental illness or a difficult situation in their lives.
14. Myth: Most suicides are caused by a single factor, such as bullying, losing a job, or ending a relationship.
Fact: In most cases, suicide is not caused by a single factor, even if mental illness was present. There are many factors involved in suicide and it should not be overly simplified. A previous suicide attempt, the availability of firearms, a family history of suicide, trauma, problems in relationships, substance abuse, and financial stress are all risk factors for suicide.
15. Myth: Alcohol and drug abuse have little correlation with suicide.
Fact: Suicides are frequently accompanied by alcohol or drug abuse.
16. Myth: Those who harm themselves wish to end their lives.
Fact: Self-harm can take two forms: 1) harming oneself with the intention of ending one's life, and 2) harming oneself without a final goal in mind. As a perceived coping mechanism, self-harm may be used by a variety of individuals for different reasons. Some individuals encounter self-harm to deal with their negative feelings, while others experience it as a punishment for a perceived wrong they committed. However, self-harm does not always mean someone is suicidal, and it should still be taken seriously.
17. Myth: It's enough to give them a phone number.
Fact: Hotlines for suicide prevention can be effective. However, simply suggesting that an individual contact a suicide hotline is not enough. There is a possibility that your struggling loved one will not take your suggestion seriously. Consider asking how you can help, offering to refer them to a mental health professional they've previously used or taking them to the emergency room yourself.
The debunking of these common myths about suicide can help people approach suicide from a new perspective -- one of compassion and understanding for an individual who is suffering. Some people struggle with mental illness, others may be under extreme pressure and don't have effective coping mechanisms or supportive networks.
It is important that we, as a society, do not fear discussing suicide, mental illness, or seeking out treatment to help those in need. We need to educate our communities about mental health in order to eliminate the stigma of suicide.
The following resources are available to anyone who is struggling with thoughts and emotions that are unhealthy: suicide hotlines, support groups, online communities, and many mental health professionals.