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Suicide: Myths & Legends

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death

in the United States and is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. With a 7.6% increase of

deaths by suicide since 2021 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and an estimated amount of

1.7 million adults who made suicide attempts in 2021 alone (CDC), it’s safe to say suicide is something to

be concerned about as caregiver, family member, and/or peer. But how do we prevent it? The best way

to start to help your loved one is to be informed and aware of the mythology surrounding suicide. I have

compiled a list of ten of the “myths and legends” of suicide to look out for.

1. They’re just trying to get attention. They wouldn’t actually do it.

This is something I hear a lot when people have a hard time understanding suicide. It is extremely rare

for someone to express a plan for suicide just to “get attention”. No matter your speculation on why

someone would plan suicide, those feelings should always be taken seriously, especially if you want to

provide support. You can never assume to know what’s going on inside someone’s head, even if you are

very close to that person.

2. Young people never think about suicide. They have their whole life ahead of them!

As I mentioned in my introduction, suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents. 2.7

million children aged 3-17 were diagnosed with depression from 2016-2019. 36.7% of adolescents aged

12-17 experienced feelings of sadness or hopelessness and 18.8% seriously considered attempting

suicide in the years 2018-2019 (CDC). Children and adolescents should be taken seriously if they are

expressing the thought of attempting suicide.

3. If you’re thinking about killing yourself, you must be crazy!

Suicidal thoughts can be triggered by many things, including grief of losing a loved one, loss of job, bullying, and/or trauma. In 2021, an estimate of 21 million adults experienced at least one depressive episode (National Institute of Mental Health). Even if someone who has a diagnosed mental illness and has suicidal thoughts, someone else could be a person going through an intensely depressive period in their life and have suicidal thoughts. In either case, no one should ever be called crazy for having a difficult time in their life and feeling suicidal.

4. Only this type of person dies by suicide. (Race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation,

financial or educational status, or age)

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are present in every demographic. As I mentioned in my introduction, 1.7 million adults in the United States died by suicide in 2021. That includes all races and ethnicities, all genders, LGBTQ+ adults, all ages above 18, and all people of varying socio-economic statuses. Although some demographics have higher rates than others, it’s clear that suicide and suicidal thoughts affect everyone.

5. Asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts will trigger the act.

Despite what some may believe, asking someone if they are suicidal will often help them feel like someone cares about them and allow them to open up. Communication is extremely important when supporting a loved one who may be having suicidal thoughts. If you suspect your loved one is suicidal, please consider talking to them. That is often the first step to supporting the ones you love, and that is also true if you think your loved one might be having suicidal thoughts.

6. People who try to kill themselves are weak.

People who have suicidal thoughts are often experiencing immense psychological pain or may even have a chemical imbalance if they have a mental illness. It is important to show compassion and try to listen to what your loved one may be going through and take action, like helping them get to the nearest emergency room, if necessary.

7. Drugs and alcohol have nothing to do with suicide.

According to the National Library of Medicine, people who have impulsive tendencies who become

intoxicated by alcohol and/or drugs are likely to continue substance abuse and experience a hindering in

their self-regulation, leading to eventual suicide. People who are under the influence of drugs and/or

alcohol may also have a co-occurring mental illness, which also increases their risk of dying by suicide.

The reality is that drugs and alcohol at times go hand in hand with suicide, so it is important to

understand the risks if your loved one struggles with substance abuse issues.

8. Once someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal.

Suicidal ideation is often specific to a person’s situation, or they may be having symptoms from their

mental illness. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who completed a study

of 153 survivors aged 13-34 of nearly fatal suicide attempts, most survivors decided to attempt

suicide within minutes or an hour before acting upon it. About one in four of these survivors made

the decision within five minutes. Suicide is often a compulsive decision that is made because of emotional pain due to either symptoms of a mental illness, or a difficult life situation. However, suicidal thoughts and ideation may not always be consistent depending on a person’s state of mind

in that moment.

I hope that this list will be helpful to caregivers, parents, and peers. It can be extremely difficult taking care of or helping a loved one with mental health issues, especially when there are so many misconceptions about suicide and suicidal ideation. There are certainly more myths about suicide than what is compiled in this list, but these are some of the most common ones I’ve heard and seen.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about navigating these myths is to open your mind, listen, and be aware.


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