Three big myths about suicide. Many times, the word suicide is “charged” with emotions, questions, assumptions, and ambiguous feelings. It can be extremely challenging to weave through all the information while going through your own grief reactions if you knew someone who died by suicide. Or maybe you are a close friend of someone who has had someone die by suicide and are unsure how to support them. Or maybe you are struggling with suicidal thoughts yourself and wonder if others will understand. Or you have no experience with suicide and are looking for information. I hope today will provide you with some clarity and support.
So, what are some of the major questions or thoughts people have when they think about the word suicide? For many people “why?” comes to mind as well as a flood of other questions. Let’s see what questions come to mind for you as we go through the myths. These myths will go through some key points from Thomas Joiner’s book Myths about Suicide.
Myth 1: “Suicide is Selfish, a way to show excessive self-love.” Many times, people who have attempted suicide and have backed out have shared that the reason they backed out was due to thinking about people who care about them and their responsibilities. However, there is another group of people who may not have social connections or support the way others due and in their moments, they may be thinking “everyone is better without me.” People who are suicidal may also experience “cognitive deconstruction” (a type of numbness) which means they are in such an intense negative emotional state that their processing is at a lower level and abstract thoughts are challenging for them to attain. In this state they may also view death as a positive.
Myth 2: Contagion – “Suicide is contagious.” There have been times when people or the media will try and connect a suicide death to something the person saw or heard. However, when reflecting on the facts of the event there is usually no direct tie that it caused the suicide. It is important to note and consider what other diagnoses and experiences the person who died by suicide may have been experiencing that were either undiagnosed or untreated. Maybe you are thinking “okay fine, but what if my child is directly asked about suicide? Won’t that get them thinking about it?” Research has found this not to be true, and in some cases, asking about suicide has helped to alleviate some children’s symptoms. Okay but what about mass suicides or when there is an influx of suicides at a school, I am sure you are wondering about that and how it must be contagion. Let me explain it this way, when those types of events happen what do those people have in common, what is the common denominator, and what are their similar vulnerabilities? Usually something else is affecting their functioning that is related to their suicide, and not that they watched or heard about someone else dying by suicide.
Myth 3: “Young children do not die by suicide.” Unfortunately, this is not true and is a myth I wish were true. However, it is important to know about this and could help save a life. Child deaths are rare in general and so is a child death by suicide, but it can still happen and knowing the warning signs is crucial. One of the biggest ones is social isolation. Fearlessness of pain/death and perceived burdensomeness can play a part. Child suicides tend to be under reported, due to medical examiners tending to attribute the death to a type of accident. However, when looked at further it can be seen that a child had premeditated the death. Children are still developing, as we know, and may understand they are in pain but may not be able to fully grasp the permanency of death and what it means. They may think “grandma is in a better place” and want to go to that place. It is important to check in with children about these items and take them seriously.
At the beginning of this blog it was going to be a 5 Myths about suicide and I quickly realized I was just touching the surface with the first 3 so this will be a 3-part serious and hopefully has provided you with the beginning basis of some themes to look for. I also encourage people to check out Thomas Joiner’s book as he carefully combs through these myths and many more. Hopefully some take-aways you have gained are to not assume, talking about suicide can be helpful and empowering, and we never really know who this may be affecting. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide or self-harm, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911. Please also feel welcome to set up an appointment, help is available to you!
By Sarah Richards
Joiner, T. (2011) Myths about Suicide. Harvard University Press.