Addressing Common Misconceptions About Suicide

Tied to the many stigmas and stereotypes people often associate with suicide–most prevalent among them being the belief that suicide is a “sin,” it is a sign of weakness, the person must be “crazy” and he or she just wants attention–are the economic, religious and social biases that further victimize those who are already experiencing severe distress or some form of mental illness.

Some of the most common myths and misconceptions people have about suicide include:

Talking to someone about suicide may give him or her the idea.

False. A person who is experiencing a traumatic loss, emotional crisis or mental illness is already depressed and may already be having self-destructive thoughts or practicing life-threatening behavior. Talking to them about these thoughts and feelings creates an immediate connection that grounds them and provides them with an outlet for their fears and other emotions.

Anyone who tries to kill him or herself is irrational or insane.

False. Most people have fairly understandable reasons and/or life circumstances that contribute to their reason for feeling suicidal. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, responding to a trauma or overwhelming circumstances, etc., which does not necessarily mean they are irrational or experiencing a mental illness.

The majority of people who commit suicide are uneducated and impoverished.

False. In the United States the largest number of suicides are committed by middle-age and older middle-age Caucasian males which, according to the US Census have the highest level of education and the largest earning potential in our society.

People who talk about suicide don’t usually do it, they just want attention.

False. According to research, as many as 75% of the people who commit suicide do or say something to indicate their state of mind and intentions before they act. If a person has to go to the extreme of threatening to do his or herself bodily harm or commit suicide, it is not that he or she wants attention, they need it!

If someone is determined to take his or her own life there is nothing you or I can do about it.

False. Suicide is an ambivalent act with anywhere from 20 to 100 attempts (depending on age, sex and other circumstances) for every completion. Most people who attempt suicide do not want to die, they want their pain to stop, and that can lead to self-destructive and life-threatening acts. The vast majority of people who call suicide hotlines who have already taken a potentially lethal action, change their minds as their situation deteriorates, ultimately asking for help.

Additional Resources

A Response to the Myth That Talking about Suicide With Kids Will “Plant the Idea
Respected suicide prevention researcher Dr. John Kalafat provides perspective and studies to document that talking about suicide will not plant the idea in a teenager’s head. Helpful reading for parents and educators. www.sptsusa.org/educators/talking-myth.html

To learn more about the warning signs, risk and protective factors associated with suicide, click here.