September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Many people in the U.S. have had their lives touched by suicide, and suicide rates continue to rise. As we move into the holiday season, it is important to remember to check in with loved ones who struggle with depression or have a history of suicidal thoughts and take time to understand the many misconceptions and warning signs. There are many resources available to those struggling with suicidal thoughts and family and friends who want to help, like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Knowledge is the best weapon to combat this issue, and treatment is often effective.
The reality is that the majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; rather they just want the situation they’re in or the way they’re feeling to end. In most cases, suicide is a means of escaping situations people feel they cannot accept. One study questioned 29 people who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. All 29 people reported that they immediately regretted their decision as soon as they jumped. Think about that. Every person questioned regretted jumping. Unfortunately, 98% of people who attempt suicide by jumping off that bridge do not survive.
While suicide is not predictable, it can be preventable when we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge and combat the stigma associated with mental health and suicide. It’s important to understand the myths, learn the warning signs, and know how you can seek support or support a loved one.
7 Myths About Suicide
When it comes to suicide, there are many myths and misconceptions that can act as barriers for people to seek help for themselves or for loved ones. It’s important to dispel those myths and misconceptions as understanding the facts can help you to help someone struggling to cope.
Myth 1: Most suicides happen suddenly, without warning.
Many people believe anyone considering suicide will not tell anyone about it so it comes as a complete surprise. However, it is very uncommon for someone struggling with thoughts of suicide not to tell anyone about these thoughts or display warning signs.
Myth 2: If a person wants to die, there’s nothing you can do to help.
Often, If someone truly wants to die, they will ensure they succeed. Failed suicide attempts are rarely cries for attention (see Myth 7). Often, people have suicide attempts that are not fatal. Typically, women have more suicide attempts than men, but men commit suicide more often. One significant factor is that men are more likely to use violent means, such as guns. Women are more likely to attempt to overdose on medication or drugs.
Myth 3: Most suicides happen in the Winter.
Many people believe that lonely people often commit suicide during the Winter holidays. However, most completed suicides peak during the start of Spring. Many researchers believe this is due to people "trying to hold on" during the holidays.
Myth 4: Talking about suicide increases the chance the person will act on it.
The truth is that talking about suicide may reduce suicidal ideation. It increases the likelihood that the individual seeks help or treatment. Having open and honest conversations also helps reduce the stigma.
Myth 5: Improved mood means the risk is gone.
When someone attempts suicide and then seems to improve, you may think the risk is gone. While this is often true, many people attempt suicide when depressive symptoms do begin to improve. Approximately 43% of patients commit suicide within one month of being discharged from an inpatient hospitalization. An intense lack of motivation and energy are significant symptoms of depression. When a person seeks treatment and symptoms such as energy increase, but hopelessness and negative thinking patterns have not yet improved, the chance for suicide attempts is higher.
Myth 6: Suicide only affects those with mental health issues.
While many people who have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide do have mental health issues, many who have attempted or completed suicide do not. There can be many reasons for suicidal ideations like relationship troubles, criminal issues, loss of a loved one, injury or chronic pain, or past trauma.
Myth 7: People who talk about suicide are seeking attention.
It is always important to take someone seriously if they talk about suicide as people who die from suicide have often spoken to someone about it.
Warning Signs of Suicide
There will almost always be signs that show someone is considering ending their life. They may be more withdrawn, increase their substance use, stop making plans, give away possessions, or suddenly and uncharacteristically express how they "love you" or "will miss you."
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some common warning signs:
- Talking about suicide — making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead," or "I wish I hadn't been born"
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying, or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
If you know someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please encourage them to seek help from a trained professional right away. Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number or seek help from one of the many resources available. Anyone can call or text 988 and reach a live person with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Any Emergency Department, most religious organizations, and Community Mental Health Centers also have people available to assist if you are in crisis. You can also call us at 1-833-4HANDUP.
Knowing that others care about them and will help them through this dark time is monumental. Show empathy and concern for them. Do not respond with anger or be confrontational or dismissive. The most important thing to remember is people need help, not judgment.