In the United States alone, someone dies by suicide once every 16 minutes. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 34. But because suicide has been considered such a “taboo” subject to think or to talk about, there are a lot of misconceptions about which individuals may be at risk, about when, how and why people might consider killing themselves, and about how best to help yourself of someone else who’s contemplating suicide.
This misinformation – or the lack of information altogether – often means that desperate people can’t get the help they need in times of crisis. Being well-informed about depression and suicide can help you save your own life or the life of someone you know or love!
MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT YOUTH SUICIDE
Myth: “Only adults can get truly depressed.”
Fact: Kids as young as 8 or 9 can get severely depressed. Depression is epidemic among teens today.
Myth: “Depression is a weakness.”
Fact: Depression is a serious but treatable illness that has nothing to do with moral strength or weakness.
Myth: “Depression is mostly a white, middle class problem.”
Fact: Depression is an “equal opportunity illness” that can affect anyone, regardless of race or socioeconomic level. Depression and suicide rates among young African-American males and Hispanic teenage girls in particular have dramatically increased in the past 20 years.
Myth: “Only depressed kids attempt suicide.”
Fact: Kids don’t have to be clinically depressed to have suicidal feelings or to attempt suicide. Even feeling extremely “bummed out” for a relatively short period of time can lead to impulsive suicide attempts. Nevertheless, a person who is clinically depressed for longer periods of time is at higher risk for attempting suicide.
Myth: “People who are depressed always feel sad.”
Fact: Other symptoms of depression can be irritability, lack of energy, change in appetite, substance abuse, restlessness, racing thoughts, reckless behavior, too much or too little sleep, or otherwise unexplained physical ailments.
Myth: “People who talk about suicide don’t kill themselves.”
Fact: People who are thinking about suicide usually find some way of communicating their pain to others – often by speaking indirectly about their intentions. Most suicidal people will admit to their feelings if questioned directly.
Myth: “There’s really nothing you can do to help someone who’s truly suicidal.”
Fact: Most people who are suicidal don’t really want their lives to end – they just want the pain to end. The understanding, support, and hope that you offer can be their most important lifeline.
Myth: “Discussing suicide may cause someone to consider it or make things worse.”
Fact: Asking someone if they’re suicidal will never give them an idea that they haven’t thought about already. Most suicidal people are truthful and relieved when questioned about their feelings and intentions. Doing so can be the first step in helping them to choose to live.
Myth: “Telling someone to cheer up usually helps.”
Fact: Trying to cheer someone up might make them feel even more misunderstood and ashamed of their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to listen well and take them seriously.
Myth: “It’s best to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret.”
Fact: Never, ever keep your or someone else’s suicidal thoughts and feelings a secret – even if you’re asked to do so. Friends never keep deadly secrets!
Myth: “If someone promised to seek help, your job is done.”
Fact: You need to make sure that any suicidal person stays safe until you can help them connect with a responsible adult.
Myth: “People who complete suicide always leave notes.”
Fact: Most people don’t leave notes.
Myth: “People who die from suicide don’t warn others.”
Fact: Out of 10 people who kill themselves, eight have given definite clues to their intentions. They leave numerous clues and warnings to others, although some of their clues may be nonverbal or difficult to detect.
Myth: “People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention. They won’t really do it.”
Fact: WRONG! Few people commit suicide without first letting someone else know how they feel. Those who are considering suicide give clues and warnings as a cry for help. In fact, most seek out someone to rescue them. Over 70% who do threaten to carry out a suicide either make an attempt or complete the act.
Myth: “Once someone has already decided on suicide, nothing is going to stop them. Suicidal people clearly want to die.”
Fact: Most of the time, a suicidal person is ambivalent about the decision; they are torn between wanting to die and wanting to live. Most suicidal individuals don’t want death; they just want the pain to stop. Some people, seeing evidence of two conflicting feelings in the individual may interpret the action as insincerity: “He really doesn’t want to do it; I don’t think he is serious.” People’s ability to help is hindered if they don’t understand the common suicidal characteristic of ambivalence.
Myth: “Once the emotional state improves, the risk of suicide is over.”
Fact: The highest rates of suicide occur within about three months of an apparent improvement in a severely depressed state. Therefore, an improvement in emotional state doesn’t mean a lessened risk.
Myth: “After a person has attempted suicide, it is unlikely he/she will try again.”
Fact: People who have attempted suicide are very likely to try again. 80% of the people who die from suicide have made at least one previous attempt.
Myth: “You shouldn’t mention suicide to someone who’s showing signs of severe depression. It will plant the idea in their minds, and they will act on it.”
Fact: Many depressed people have already considered suicide as an option. Discussing it openly helps the suicidal person sort through the problems and generally provides a sense of relief and understanding. It is one of the most helpful things you can do.
Myth: “If someone survives a suicide attempt, they weren’t serious about ending their life.”
Fact: The attempt in and of itself is the most important factor, not the effectiveness of the method.