When a topic is uncomfortable or taboo, myths pop up to fill the knowledge gap surrounding the subject. These myths become widely accepted, and unfortunately are often advanced by careless, unresearched reporting in the media. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, our current Poverty and Health beneficiary, works hard to dispel these myths and stop them from perpetuating by providing information about how to responsibly report on suicide. Furthermore, AFSP funds research that advances our understanding of suicide. Here are just a few examples of the kind of misinformation AFSP routinely combats.
MYTH:Most people who attempt suicide keep their plans to themselves. No one could have seen it coming. FACT: Between 50% and 75% of all people who attempt suicide tell someone beforehand that they feel like hurting themselves. Any mention of suicide should be taken seriously. As AFSP’s website notes, “When someone tells you they are thinking of suicide, they are giving you a precious opportunity to help before it’s too late.”
MYTH:If someone has already decided to attempt suicide, nothing I say can change their mind. FACT: In reality, most people who think or talk about suicide actually have mixed feelings about dying. The majority of thoughts of suicide come not from a wish to be dead, but are prompted by suffering from a mental illness. Mental illnesses can be treated with professional help, such as medication and/or talk therapy.
MYTH: If I ask my depressed friend if they are considering suicide when they aren’t, this will plant the idea in their head. FACT: If someone is not already thinking about suicide, gently asking about it will not cause them to consider it. It is far better to be sure.
MYTH: When speaking to someone who is considering suicide, it will help to use phrases like “you have so much to live for” and “think of how much your death will hurt your family”. FACT: Pleading and preaching statements will only add to the pressure and hurt the individual is already feeling. The best strategy is to acknowledge that the person is suffering, remind them that you care and they are not alone, and tell them that they can get help. Then, encourage and assist the individual to get the help they need.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does invaluable work in spreading awareness, educating the public, furthering research, and influencing public policy to prevent suicide.