Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Suicide remains a taboo subject in our society. Despite this it's still the biggest killer of young people in the UK. In 2017 there were nearly 6,000 recorded deaths by suicide in the UK. In comparison there were 1,710 road causalities. The number of people dying on the roads has been coming down over the years, maybe this is because we talk about road safety, we see adverts on the TV about wearing seatbelts, cutting speed and drink driving. Why aren't we talking about suicide in the same way?
Talking to professionals, parents and friends that support people at risk of suicide, it's clear that there is a lot of fear preventing people from talking about suicide. I'm going to explore 5 of the myths that cause this fear.
Myth #1 - Talking about Suicide will put the idea in their head.
People don't get depressed if you talk to them about depression. Similarly, people don't want to die by suicide because you have used the word 'Suicide'. People who are considering suicide are doing this for many reasons. Some see it as an escape from a situation that feels impossible. Others feel that the world would be better off without them. I have never spoken to any person that wants to die by suicide because somebody mentioned it to them, but I have spoken to many people who have reached out for help because a loved one made them feel that it was ok to talk about their thoughts of suicide openly.
Myth #2 - Talking about it makes it worse - what people need are distractions from these thoughts.
People who are thinking about death by suicide tell me that being given a safe place to discuss these thoughts is the single most important thing that a loved one can do to help them to stay safe from these thoughts. It's hard when we care about somebody, we want to fix things and make them better, but listening is so important. Distractions and further support is also important in the long run, but if you go straight to offering solutions, a person experiencing thoughts of suicide can feel frustrated, dismissed, disempowered and hopeless.
Myth #3 - A person experiencing thoughts of suicide isn't in their right mind - they can't be trusted to think for themselves.
Of course there are times when people who are experiencing thoughts of suicide are unable to stay safe from these thoughts. These are the cases that we often think about when we hear or suspect that somebody is feeling suicidal. However, in most cases, people having these thoughts can give clear and logical reasons for feeling this way and dismissing them as 'crazy' or 'out of their mind' gives them the message that they can't take control of, or manage these very scary thoughts. In truth, if they are still with us there is still a part of them is connected to life, however small. We can acknowledge and work with this part of them to help them to stay safe from these thoughts, but we need to do this without dismissing the part of them that is still in pain.
Myth #4 - If somebody is talking about suicide, they aren't serious about doing it.
Imagine life being so intolerable that death feels like the only way out. Imagine how much courage it must take to ask for help when things feel so hopeless. Now imagine being told that "If you are asking for help you don't really want to die". It is likely that a person asking for help has a part of them that doesn't want to die. It might be that that part of them is asking you for help as a last attempt at life. You must always take somebody that talks about suicide seriously. Like all things in life, suicide is rarely so black and white.
Myth #5 - You need to be a Mental Health professional to talk about suicide.
I hope that by dispelling the myths above I have helped you to see that you don't have to be trained in Mental Health to talk about suicide. You just need to be able to listen, empathise and praise them for their strength and courage. Acknowledge that there is a part of them in a huge amount of pain, but that perhaps the part of them being so open with you might want help. I know it's scary, but you can do this.
As a community we need to use the word suicide without stigma, we need to make it ok to talk about it so that people find it easier to ask for help.
If you suspect somebody is having thoughts of suicide, ask them. Once you have listened to them you can talk to them about how to access help and support. They need to go to their GP if they aren't at immediate risk, if they are at immediate risk explain that you need to take them to A&E or call an ambulance.
For more advice or support have a look at www.papyrus-uk.org
Don't be alone with thoughts of suicide.
- If you are under 35 and experiencing thoughts of suicide, or you are supporting somebody this age who is experiencing thoughts of suicide call HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 41 41.
- CALM - The Campaign Against Living Miserably has a helpline especially for men who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide - 0800 58 58 58.
- The Samaritans are also open 24/7, you can call them on 116 123.