Myths & Facts about Suicide
Many people of all ages and backgrounds are touched by suicide - personal struggles with depression and thoughts of suicide, knowing someone who has attempted suicide, or knowing someone who has died by suicide.
In the small county where our center is located, Douglas County, Kansas, in recent years between 5 and 11 lives have been lost to suicide. Suicide is a major public health problem in the United States. The most recent national statistics from 2003 tell us that suicide was the 11th leading cause of death among adults and accounted for nearly 31,000 deaths among people aged 18 or older. Each of these people leaves behind family and friends whose lives will never be the same.
Unfortunately there is a great deal of misunderstanding about suicide, and sometimes misunderstanding might prevent people from seeking the help they need - this applies to people considering suicide, as well as those affected by the loss of a loved one.
MYTH: People who talk about suicide do not kill themselves.
FACT: A large majority (at least 2/3 to 3/4 according to research studies) of those who die by suicide, communicate their suicidal intentions to others either directly or indirectly, in the weeks before their death. Suicide threats and attempts must be taken seriously.
MYTH: Suicide happens without warning.
FACT: Most suicidal persons talk about and/or give behavioral clues about their suicidal feelings, thoughts, and intentions. Recognizing and responding to these indicators can prevent suicide attempts and deaths. However, some people do not show any indications in advance of their suicide deaths.
MYTH: Suicidal people always want to die.
FACT: Many suicidal people want to live better, even while they are stating that they want to die. Most often their suicidal communication indicates a need for relief from the intense emotional pain and a want for life-saving help.
MYTH: Once a person is suicidal, s/he is suicidal forever.
FACT: Most suicidal crises are limited in terms of time, and will pass if help is provided. However, if emotional distress continues without relief and help is not sought, the risk remains for further suicidal behavior. Professional help should be obtained.
MYTH: Improvement following a suicidal crisis means that the suicidal risk is over.
FACT: Many suicides occur following "improvement" in mood. The decision to solve one's problems offers relief and an improved energy. For at least three months following a suicidal crisis, be especially attentive to the individual. Therapists should see patients frequently during this time, and assessment for depression should be made.
MYTH: Suicide strikes more often among the rich, or conversely it occurs more frequently among the poor.
FACT: Death by suicide is not specific to financial status. It occurs in all socio-economic levels as well as in all ages, cultures, ethnic groups, and all sexes.
MYTH: Suicide is inherited or runs in the family.
FACT: There is no specific gene for suicide in a person. However, in families with histories of major depression, alcoholism, and/or schizophrenia (conditions most often associated with suicide risk), the potential for suicidal behavior may be increased. Suicide risk may also increase as a result of one's identification with, and imitation of, a previous suicide in the family.
MYTH: People who are suicidal are "crazy" or "insane."
FACT: Severe emotional distress is not the same as mental illness, " craziness", or "insanity". Behavior that may look psychotic may be temporary and a result of extreme unhappiness or emotional upset. Many suicidal people are experiencing an episode of major depression. However, most deaths by suicide do occur in the context of a documentable episode of a major psychiatric or addiction disorder.
MYTH: More people die by homicide than by suicide.
FACT: In 2001, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. , resulting in 305,622 deaths. Homicide was the 13th leading causes of death in the U.S.
MYTH: Teenagers kill themselves more than any other age group.
FACT: It is estimated that teenagers ATTEMPT suicide in greater numbers than any other age group. For every teen death there are an estimated 100-200 attempts. When all ages of people are considered, for every suicide death there are only 25 attempts. The age group with the highest RATE (per 100,000) of suicide DEATHS is the elderly, people 65 years and older.
MYTH: Most suicide deaths occur around the Christmas holiday season.
FACT: In the U.S. suicide deaths are consistently highest in June and July. Also, Mondays are shown to have slightly higher numbers of suicide deaths than other days of the week.
MYTH: Asking a person who is emotionally distressed if s/he is thinking about killing her-/him-self makes suicide more likely for that person.
FACT: Emotionally distressed persons who have not thought about suicide will NOT consider the question as a new option to try. If the person has considered suicide, but has not mentioned it because of embarrassment, it is more likely to provide relief and make him/her believe someone has recognized the despair.