Around the globe, September is Suicide Prevention Month. National Suicide Prevention day was earlier in the month in the UK, whilst September 8th-14th was Suicide Prevention Week in the US. Although the ways we talk about suicide and mental health have been improving in recent years, there is still a huge stigma attached to the subject, and talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings. Suicide is on the rise globally, with 800,000 people dying by suicide last year, so it’s more important than ever that we raise awareness, to try and stop so many people dying from suicide.
We hear a lot of things about suicide on social media and the internet, from understanding who is at risk, to what to do if someone you know is suicidal. Information can be conflicting and this can leave us feeling not only confused, but also afraid to do or say the wrong thing and make individual problems worse or perpetuate the inaccurate information out there. We’ve done some myth busting in today’s blogpost to really drill down on what’s real and how you can help raise awareness.
1) Suicide is a mental health disease
False. Suicide itself is not considered to be a mental health condition, it is simply defined as an act of taking one’s own life. Those with diagnosed mental health conditions, however, particularly depression and bipolar disease, are at a significantly higher risk of suicide, and the majority of suicides are related to mental distress. Mental health issues often make thinking clearly difficult, and people can be confused, lonely, isolated, or find it harder to see a way out of their situation, which can all in turn cause someone to feel like ending their life is the only option.
2) Men commit suicide more than women
True. Statistics show that men die by suicide 3-4x more often than women. There are many reasons and theories behind this, including the idea that men find it harder to talk about their feelings societally, or that men may have more access to means of suicide than women. It is interesting to note that while suicide rates are higher for men, the rates of suicide attempts is higher in women. In the US, women are 3x more likely to attempt suicide than men. It has been suggested that this could be due to the fact that statistically, the methods men use to commit suicide are more violent and therefore more likely to cause death.
3) Talking about suicide can make it worse
False. All the research points to an improved outcome if suicide is talked about. Many people who have felt suicidal have said that once someone asked them, they felt a huge sense of relief in being able to admit their feelings. Those who are having suicidal thoughts might not be telling anyone because they’re scared they will cause hurt or worry in a loved one, but talking about it can relieve the burden, and often other options than taking their own life arise. Not talking about suicide isn't going to stop the suicidal thoughts from occurring in someone’s head, but talking about it might stop someone following through.
4) Suicide is on the rise
True. This is a little harder to answer on a global scale, as rates vary from country to country. Rates in the US have been steadily rising since 2000, which are now 33% higher than they were in 1999. In the UK, rates had been declining for 10 years, but this year there has been an alarming 12% rise from 2017-2018. What’s more, rises in specific age groups are significant, with young women under 25 seeing the largest rate on record in the UK, whilst the US has also seen a climb in young people. All these rises could be due to social media, particularly for younger ages groups, as well as political and economical climates causing stress and mental health issues.
5) Only certain people are predisposed to be suicidal
False. Many people have had thoughts about suicide in their life, to varying degrees, and there is no evidence to suggest people have something within them that causes them to be more susceptible to it. Indeed, many groups are at higher risk of suicide, but this is usually due to external factors such as upbringing and social integration. Anyone can feel suicidal at any point in their life, and judging those who are suicidal or believing ‘it could never be me’ is damaging for the individuals and the national perception of suicide overall.
6) LGBTQ people are at higher risk of suicide
True. Statistically, those from the LGBTQ+ community are at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and death by suicide than those who are not. This is different, however, to saying that LGBTQ people are predisposed to be suicidal. External influences such as isolation, bullying and not being accepted are the main reasons behind the higher risk, not the fact they are LGBTQ+.
7) People usually only try it once
False. Many people think if someone has one failed attempt, it was simply a cry for help, they regret it, and will never try it again. Although this may be the case for some people, evidence suggests the opposite is true in most cases. Someone who has attempted suicide once is statistically most at risk of death by suicide the first few days after the previous attempts. One study found that 1 in 25 deaths by suicide had occurred after a failed attempt within the previous 5 years.
8) People who seem to be getting better might still be suicidal
True. Sadly, someone may seem like they have improved, and may even try to lie and put on a brave face for loved ones, but underneath they are still feeling suicidal. Signs to watch out for, particularly after periods of great depression and known suicidal thoughts, are cleaning rooms and houses, selling things for a ‘fresh start,’ saying goodbye or being more affectionate than usual. Suicidal people often plan their suicide over weeks or even months, often with the thought that they are leaving the least possible problems for loved ones once they are gone. It is even more important that an open, non-judgemental dialogue is on offer to those who are at risk of suicide, so they can always talk about it if they are able.
9) Most suicides happen in winter
False. Most people believe this to be true, and it makes sense logically. It’s colder, more expensive and literally darker in the winter months, and in the northern hemisphere holidays like Christmas and New Year can magnify problems. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually the Spring months that have the highest rates of suicide, and this is the case around the globe. It’s not really known why this is the case and there are many theories from pollen levels to the idea that people think things are still terrible despite improving weather, but the statistics have been there for over 100 years. Suicide is more likely in Spring, with the Winter months actually being the lowest seasonally. It’s important to note, however, that here is still a noticeable increase in the US and the UK on New Years Eve and New Years Day.
10) Most suicides don’t end in death
True. There is one death by suicide for every 25 recorded suicide attempts, although actual numbers may be even higher as many suicide attempts are not recorded. Although initially comforting, this statistic should not be taken lightly, as it doesn’t take into account other factors, such as how serious the attempts were, or whether the attempt was unsuccessful due to intervention i.e. someone calling an ambulance. What this statistic actually means is for every one successful attempt at suicide, there are 25 other people who, at least for one moment, wanted to try and end their life, and that’s something we should be talking about.
Suicide is a complex, confusing, and scary subject, but research has shown that talking about it helps prevent it. Days, weeks, and months aimed at raising awareness are brilliant and it’s great that in recent years they have gained more traction in the public eye. Campaigns from television companies such as ITV in the UK, and Hollywood celebrities trying to open up discussions, are all steps in the right direction. We’ve left some charities and helplines below that may help you or a loved one through an experience with suicide, be that help for someone who is suicidal, advice on how to support those who are suicidal, or support for those who have experienced the death of a loved one by suicide.
Samaritans - 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - 0800 58 58 58
Childline - 0800 1111
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
Veterans Crisis Line - 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ+) - 1-866-488-7386