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Reducing Stigma by Learning the Facts: Suicide Myth-Busting

Losing a loved one to suicide spurs countless questions around the “why” and “how”. In our search for answers, misunderstandings arise about factors leading to suicide. Myths can negatively impact those grieving and fuel stigma. By learning facts on suicide and sharing real stories, we gain insight for prevention while reducing misconceptions.

illustration of half brain in blue and half heart in pink, orange and yellow

Image by Md Abdul Rashid/Pixabay

Six Myths About Suicide versus the Facts

Myth #1: Suicide happens without warning signs. 

Fact: Most exhibit subtle warning signs like behavior/mood changes, withdrawing socially, researching methods, or directly vocalizing distress. Spotting these allows more chances to compassionately intervene.  

Myth #2: Conversation or questions about suicide puts the idea in a person’s head.

Fact: Sensitively asking about suicidal thoughts lets someone share pain without judgment, the first step toward healing. Taking the risk of awkwardness and initiating a conversation with someone you're worried about can often make a positive impact and in many cases, may save someone's life.

Myth #3: Improvement after crisis means the suicide risk has passed.  

Fact: Suddenly rebounding after depression can indicate planning suicide. The person may display happiness or even elation because they are feeling anticipatory relief, believing their pain is almost over. Please be aware that the risk remains extremely high.

Myth #4: Suicides primarily happen late at night.   

Fact: Suicidal behavior can occur anytime of day. Morning doesn’t equal safety, fueling stigma and lost intervention chances. Suicidal behavior can also occur any time of year and in any season.

Myth #5: Suicide only happens because of mental health issues.

Fact: While mental health conditions play a role in many cases, several factors can contribute to suicide risk. Lack of critical resources, including lack of access to mental healthcare, financial hardship leading to overdue bills or potential homelessness, lack of access to healthcare, food scarcity, or a sufficient support network can also significantly heighten risk, especially when multiple issues compound.

Expanding programs and funding to expand access to mental healthcare, combat food insecurity and financial issues like high medical bills, increasing affordable housing availability, and funding/outreach to strengthen support networks in at-risk communities provide protection against these resource-related risk factors.

Advocating for expansion of social services and crisis intervention resources in a compassionate, judgment-free way offers promise for prevention. There are always alternatives, even in one's darkest moments. Seeking or offering support and a receptive ear can be the first step towards renewed hope during crisis.

Myth #6: High-profile celebrity suicides do not increase risk among the general public.

Fact: Extensive research reveals that sensationalized or graphic media coverage of a celebrity suicide can lead to increases in suicide rates in the following weeks and months due to a copying effect, especially among those already vulnerable. Certain types of news coverage may minimize this risk.

When covering such losses, focus should remain on mourning the individual, and avoiding details about suicide methods or locations. Exploration of evidence-based risk factors can educate without inadvertent harm. Ideally coverage should tactfully include links to suicide prevention resources at a national or local level.

Celebrity influence extends to imitation of dangerous behavior - an effect magnified among youth and those grappling with mental health issues. So the media bears responsibility to report cautiously, balancing that educational opportunity to elevate crisis resources, reduce stigma through compassion, potentially saving lives in the process.

Rather than make assumptions, we can lead with facts and compassion surrounding suicide prevention, intervention, and grieving. There is always hope; seek or provide support during crises by listening without judgment. Together we have the power to save lives.



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