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The Myths and Warning Signs of Suicide

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness

Andreas Lischka/Pixabay
Source: Andreas Lischka/Pixabay

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It has been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When someone is contemplating suicide, they are seeking a solution – an end – to their intense feelings of suffering and acute psychological pain. People are likely to consider suicide when their life stressors have generated feelings of despair and hopelessness to such an extent that their coping skills are utterly overwhelmed. Their feelings of hopelessness – and helplessness – have become so severe that they cannot conceive of any other option besides death that will enable them to escape their emotional pain.

Suicide is most commonly associated with depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. Having thoughts of suicide, or suicidal ideation, is a severe sign of psychological suffering; as such, it is imperative that those who encounter such suffering seek professional help. As a society, we must help those who are suicidal to access the treatment that they need.

Myths About Suicide

Myth: Depression only affects adults.

Truth: Children and teenagers can also get severely depressed.

Myth: People who are depressed are weak.

Truth: That is false.

Myth: There is nothing that you can do to help a person who is suicidal.

Truth: Listening and offering emotional support can be very helpful for a suicidal person.

Myth: If a suicidal person asks you not to tell anyone that they are suicidal, you should not tell anyone.

Truth: Never keep that to yourself. Tell someone who can help.

Myth: Only people who have been diagnosed with mental illness can experience suicidal ideation.

Truth: Any severe life stressors can function as precursors to an individual experiencing suicidal ideation. Such life stresses can include, for example, the death of a loved one, relationship problems, sexual abuse, losing one’s home, legal issues, financial issues, traumatic events, or severe illness.

Myth: Talking about suicide will encourage more suicides.

Truth: Talking about suicide actually diminishes the stigma with which it is all too often associated; this, in turn, encourages people to seek treatment.

Myth: Young people will never attempt suicide if they are openly talking about it.

Truth: Take it seriously; it could be a plea for help and a precursor to a suicide attempt.

Myth: A person will not make another suicide attempt if they fail the first time.

Truth: If a person attempts suicide and fails, they are likely to make another attempt at some point in time.

Myth: Threatening to commit suicide is just a way of getting attention.

Truth: Do not disregard threats of suicide; take every threat seriously.

Myth: Once a person has significantly improved in the context of their depressive state, they are no longer at risk of attempting suicide.

Truth: That person may have seemingly improved in the context of their depressive state because they are determined to complete a suicidal act and are happy with their decision.

Myth: People who take their own lives are typically of a particular race.

Truth: Suicide does not discriminate. Individuals of any race, upbringing, gender, age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity are capable of self-destructive behavior. Pay attention to what an individual says and does.

Myth: Most suicides occur without warning.

Truth: Warning signs precede the majority of suicides and so it is essential to know what they are and how to recognize them.

Warning Signs

With hindsight, people who have known individuals who have taken their own lives have realized that most of them displayed warning signs before doing so. They may have exhibited changes in behavior that followed a loss, painful event, or significant upheaval in their lives. Warning signs of suicide can take the form of words or actions that indicate that a person is at an increased risk of suicide. Such signs can include the following:

· Talking a lot about death;

· Giving things away;

· Feeling worthless;

· Previous suicidal behavior;

· A sense of hopelessness;

· A sense of helplessness;

· Lack of belonging;

· Disruption to sleep, either sleeping too little or too much;

· Feeling trapped;

· Feeling like a burden to others;

· Feeling alone;

· Having no reason to live;

· Talking about killing themselves;

· Increasing their use of drugs or alcohol;

· Looking for ways to kill themselves;

· Isolating from friends and family;

· Withdrawing from activities;

· Calling or visiting people in order to say goodbye.

Other risk factors for suicide are: securing lethal weapons (e.g. a firearm) or drugs (e.g. narcotics), being subjected to bullying or harassment, unemployment, divorce, financial problems, family history of suicide, previous suicide attempts, a traumatic event, severe illness, or suffering from abuse or neglect.

Veterans belong to a high-risk group for suicide due to their deployment in the military. It is recommended that veterans should find support groups that comprise those who have experienced similar trauma. Veterans should also have a safety plan in place in case they feel suicidal, depressed, or in crisis.

The LGBTQ community is at increased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation due to the discrimination and prejudice that the individuals who belong to this group, sadly, all too often encounter. A large number of LGBTQ youth have been threatened or assaulted because of their sexual or gender identities; such victimization often leads to self-harming behaviors. Having a strong support network can help, though. Speak up, don’t keep suicidal thoughts to yourself, and make a safety plan just in case you feel depressed, are in crisis, or are feeling suicidal at any point.

People often underestimate the struggles that young people face. For those who belong to the age bracket of 10-24 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Dealing with relationships, sexual identities, grades, bullying, family conflict, or losing someone important can often appear to be insurmountable and catastrophic life stressors for young people. Toxic or unhealthy relationships can be incredibly difficult to manage. If you are a young person who is feeling suicidal, be sure to reach out to a family member, a friend, or a teacher – and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

If a child talks about taking their own life, believe them. Please don’t assume that they are merely seeking attention; take their words and feelings seriously and get them help. If a young person is struggling to deal with a relationship breakup or a fight with a friend, don’t belittle or minimize their feelings. Listen nonjudgmentally and empathize with them; you do not want to exacerbate the situation or alienate them. It is incredibly important that you do not promise to keep it a secret if someone says that they are thinking of taking their own life. Seek the help of a trusted adult.

Survivors of disaster often struggle with suicidal ideation. It doesn’t matter if the disaster was natural or human-made; the emotional toll that disasters take on survivors can be severe. Following a traumatic event or disaster, individuals often experience overwhelming emotions. If you have experienced a disaster, try limiting the amount of time that you spend watching the news or reading about it. Continually focusing on these disasters will only exacerbate your feelings.

You should also avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Instead, take a break and go and do something relaxing to take your mind off the situation. Go for a walk or take some other form of exercise – and be sure to get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to exhaustion and, as a result, exacerbate overwhelming emotions. Create new routines and practice an abundance of self-care strategies. If you know someone who has experienced a disaster, reach out to them and check in on them regularly. Ask them how they are doing. Listen to them and offer support. The American Red Cross is an excellent resource for survivors of disasters.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are not alone. Making sense of suicide can be challenging, confusing, and painful. The realization that your loved one was in dire psychological pain may fill you with unanswered questions and intense, raw emotions. You may feel like you are drowning in a quicksand of complex emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, hurt, anger, fear, and sadness. It is essential that you reach out to supportive friends, family members, co-workers, therapists – or a grief support group if you want and need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Create a Safety Plan for Yourself:

S – Signs: warning signs (mood, thoughts, behaviors);

A – Ask: make a list of the people to whom you can turn for help;

F – Find: make a list of activities you can do to provide a distraction from suicidal feelings;

E – Environment: make your environment safe;

T – Techniques: make a list of any relaxation techniques that you may be able to use;

Y – Your professionals: make a list of professionals whom you can contact for help.

You are not “weak” if you ask for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 1-800-273-8255.

More from Louise B. Miller Ph.D.
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