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Myths and facts

Kari Swanson

Last week, in lieu of September being Suicide Prevention Month, I discussed the different factors that can attribute to a person’s struggle with suicidal thoughts and the eventual taking of one’s life. These are important things for a person to be aware of when he/she is going through a difficult time. The bricks discussion I spoke of as well last week is an important piece to helping others through difficult times and knowing what resources a person needs to help him/her out of a crisis.

Now I want to discuss myths and facts of suicide. These are important because if someone believes a myth to be true then that, most likely, will prevent that person from helping someone struggling with a suicidal crisis.

A common myth is “no one can stop a suicide, it is inevitable.”

If someone believes that suicide is inevitable then that person ever stopping to recognize signs and lending a hand is improbable.

The fact is, if a person struggling with a suicidal crisis gets the help they need at the time they need it, they may not be suicidal again.

Do people repeat suicidal crises? Yes.

Does everyone repeat suicidal crises? No.

A particular situation comes into my mind when thinking about this myth and fact: Many years ago there was a person who contemplated suicide with a plan and intent on following through. This was following a devastating loss. To say this person was depressed prior to the loss is questionable. But the loss was so great that it triggered depression and suicidal thoughts. Family members were in tune enough to the changes in the individual’s behavior and mood that they sought help and the person received counseling and became open to the treatment provided.

Since that time, this person has not experienced another suicidal crisis. This is more common than you would think, however, what is also very common is that people tend to overlook behavior changes and mood changes as being “something he is going through and he’ll work it out.”

Had this person’s family not responded the way they did, I can honestly say this person would have attempted to harm himself/herself and may not be here today.

I think a very important thing to remember is how you would handle a situation is not how others will or would handle the very same situation.

Be observant to things going on in other’s lives and how they are processing or not processing it. Be aware of mood changes. Be aware of isolating behaviors and withdrawing from activities he/she loves to do. Be aware of drinking behaviors and other “escape” behaviors. Be aware of words used when this person talks, are they negative, are they hopeless? Be aware of when difficult times, such as anniversaries of a significant event in this person’s life, are approaching and reach out to do something or check-in.

You bringing up the event’s anniversary does not make the person sad. It can make the person relieved that you also know and recognize the impact of the loss to this person.

This brings up another myth — Talking about suicide will only increase the risk of suicide.

I have had many people ask me if they bring up the subject of suicide to a loved one, will that “plant the seed” for that person to end his/her life?

The simple answer is no. You are not going to give someone an idea to kill themselves if the idea does not already exist within that person.

The fact is, asking someone directly, or talking to someone about suicidal intent, actually lowers anxiety, opens up communication, and lowers the risk of an impulsive act. It is as if the “secret” is no longer. A person thinking of ending his/her life tends to feel very alone and isolated. When asked about thoughts of harming oneself it brings a sense of “I can talk about this” to the forefront and allows the person to express himself/herself.

When asking someone about suicidal intent or thoughts, it is very important how you ask. Think about yourself. If you were having thoughts of believing you and your loved ones would be better off if you were dead and someone you are close to says to you, “You aren’t thinking of doing something stupid like ending it are you,” would you answer truthfully? Chances are no. That question is lined with judgment — a judgment that suicide is stupid. Refrain from judgment as passing judgment tends to end conversations.

You may have your own beliefs and opinions on this topic, however, the important thing here is the person in front of you who needs your undivided attention and listening ears.

I find that an easier way to ask someone you know is going through a tough time and has exhibited some signs of significant depression is to say “have your thoughts been scary lately?” “do you sometimes wish you just wouldn’t wake up in the morning?”

Affirmative answers to these questions do not mean that the person is planning to harm themselves, but it does mean that he/she is experiencing some thoughts that need addressed and listened to.

When listening to someone’s struggles and list of difficulties try to refrain from saying, “I’ve been there, you’ll get through it.”

Instead, say, “what can I do to help, what do you need right now”?

You listening and offering help offers hope to the person and maybe enough to save a life.

I know these are scary things I am talking about, but think about the person that is experiencing private thoughts of believing he/she shouldn’t be alive anymore; that life is too hard; that situations are too big for him/her to keep living. That is scary.

When things are private in our minds we tend to make them bigger and bigger, like blowing air into a balloon.

When someone comes along and offers help and hope through talking and listening, it tends to let the air out. We all have the ability to lighten the load, make someone laugh, give a compliment, help someone out, listen. Look for those opportunities.

If you are reading this and are struggling with private thoughts that are frightening you, reach out. Please. People care and want to help, but can’t help if they don’t know you need help. You matter. Your life matters.

What you are going through can be temporary, but suicide is permanent.

The suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and the texting line is TALK to 741741.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

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