Myths about suicide are incredibly harmful

Michael Jensen

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month might be ending in less than a week, but caring for those suffering from suicidal thoughts and feelings is a year-round endeavor. Over 41,000 Americans commit suicide every year and as recently as last June, suicide replaced homicide as the second leading cause of death among those aged 16 to 19. Many of our fellow Longhorns fall into this demographic, as 9 percent of college students report having suicidal thoughts, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. However, if we want to help students plagued by suicidal thoughts or feelings, we must also address the widely-circulated myths and misconceptions about these people.

The first myth is that someone who talks about killing themselves couldn’t possibly mean it. Some falsely believe that if someone really wanted to die, the suicidal individual wouldn’t spoil everything by confessing their plans. Worse, such admissions are often dismissed as pleas for attention and nothing more.

Despite this, research by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network indicates that the vast majority of people who successfully committed suicide told at least one other person about their plans beforehand. Although it may be brushed off as attention seeking, They found that these individuals just want whatever pain they’re experiencing to stop. If someone is desperate enough to admit they’re feeling suicidal, the last thing you should do is dismiss them as attention-seekers. So-called “cries for attention” are more accurately described as cries for help.

In a similar vein, there is also a widely held belief that suicide usually happens without warning or could not have been stopped. This is demonstrably untrue becaue the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention notes that most victims of suicide display clear warning signs before taking their lives. These can range from social withdrawal to a sudden, unexplained improvement in mood. Even if someone seems like they’re getting better, we should also be wary when someone suffering from severe depression appears to be cured overnight.

But perhaps the most egregious misconception about suicide is that there’s nothing we can do about it. If someone you care about confides in you that they’re planning to end their life, you should always do something about it. Don’t leave them alone and definitely ask questions. If the risk of suicide seems especially urgent, you should always tell someone else — whether family or emergency services — about their plans. It doesn’t matter if they made you promise to keep it a secret. Their life is more important.

Suicide is always a tragedy. It’s not an easy subject to write about. It’s far more common than we’d like to think. It very likely affects, indirectly or directly, someone you know. So it’s more important than ever that we dispel myths and misconceptions about suicide because not only are they wrong, they’re also indescribably harmful.

Jensen is a neuroscience senior from The Woodlands. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @michaeltangible.