Op-Ed

How to fight suicide myths with information and compassion

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 4-10. Volunteers will be at the Bellingham Farmers’ Market on Sept. 10, 2016, with resources to talk about the issue.
National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 4-10. Volunteers will be at the Bellingham Farmers’ Market on Sept. 10, 2016, with resources to talk about the issue. Tribune News Service

Much as we may fear it, suicide is a reality. It happens every day – 1 million times a year worldwide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Although a reality, it is one that many of us choose to ignore. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t know how to respond to someone who has lost someone to suicide, and we don’t know how to express concern to a loved one who might be suicidal.

Many of us have been affected by suicide. It is estimated that for every suicide there are six survivors. Suicide isn’t something that affects adults only. It is the second leading cause of death for youths in Washington state. In 2014, 20 percent of Washington state 10th-graders had seriously considered suicide and 16 percent had made a plan, according to the 2014 Washington state Healthy Youth Survey.

Talking about suicide may be the only way to prevent it.

Our response is often a result of the stigma that surrounds suicide. “Stigma” refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate us to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate against groups of people. It prevents open and honest conversation, and as a result suicide is often shrouded in myth and misunderstanding.

Reducing the power of any social stigma begins with sharing accurate information and having honest conversations about the issue. In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 4-10, let’s start the process by addressing some of the most common myths about suicide, according to Thomas Joiner’s “Why People Die by Suicide.”

Myth: Suicide is a cowardly act. It is the easy way out.

The truth is that the human instinct to survive is strong. Suicide is scary, daunting and very difficult to complete. People who die by suicide view it as the only way to escape the tremendous pain that they are feeling.

Myth: Suicide is selfish.

While suicide may seem like a selfish act, suicidal thinkers view their death as a relief to their families. They incorrectly perceive that their deaths will be worth more to their families than their lives.

Myth: Suicide is just a cry for help. If suicidal people were serious about dying, they would already have done it.

While some people who die by suicide will not share their intent with others, most will. It is a cry for help. The suicidal thinker is in pain and is reaching out for connection. Ignoring or mishandling the situation can have tragic consequences. Take every suicidal statement seriously.

Myth: Suicides peak around winter holidays.

Suicidal behavior peaks in late spring. It actually decreases around holidays, mainly because this is when people are interacting with family and friends and they have the social connections to sustain them.

Myth: If we talk about suicide we’ll plant the idea in someone’s head.

This one is perhaps the most detrimental to suicide prevention. Talking about suicide may be the only way to prevent it. Intervention is one of the best ways to help a suicidal thinker feel a personal connection to another human being. The power of connection is so great that it can prevent someone from attempting suicide.

Suicide prevention is everybody’s business. We can all play a role in reducing suicide and the stigma that surrounds it. We can start by talking openly and honestly about suicide and mental health with friends and loved ones. We can correct myths when we hear them and respond with facts. Most important, we can reach out to those around us with connection and compassion.

KaSandra Church is prevention program manager with the Whatcom Prevention Coalition, which promotes suicide prevention through educational outreach and community wide trainings. Contact KaSandra Church at kasandrachurch@wfcn.org or 360-738-1196.

Learn more

Visit madhope.org for videos and suicide prevention resources. Volunteers will also be at the Bellingham Farmers Market on Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, with resources.

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