TALK

Talking about suicide can dispel myths, reduce negative stigma, and encourage those who are struggling to reach out for help.

Why talk about suicide? 

1. It’s a leading cause of death.

Suicide is a serious public health issues that impacts all of us. Over 800,000 people die worldwide every year, and hundreds more are impacted. The more we can talk safely and openly about suicide in research, in the media, in entertainment, and in interpersonal connections, the more attention this important topic will get until we can find solutions that prevent more suicide deaths.  

2. We can dispel myths and stereotypes.

We all have heard common myths about all kinds of topics. Suicide is no different. By learning what myths are out there, you can be more educated on the topic and stop the perpetuation of unhelpful and sometimes harmful myths and stereotypes about suicide and people living with mental illness. 

 

3. Reduces negative stigma.

The more we talk about suicide, the more we can break down stigma, which remains a major barrier to getting help for those struggling with suicidal thoughts or behaviors. There are lots of ways we talk about suicide. 

 

4. It’s an opportunity to educate.

Most of us don’t think about suicide until it impacts our lives. This can change with efforts to educate entire communities about mental health and suicide. Education is a key component to preventing more suicide deaths. 

 

5. The bottom line...talking about suicide can save lives.

Who should talk about suicide? 

Everyone. We can all play an important role in preventing suicide.  

How should we talk about suicide? ​

It depends on the context, but in all cases, we should talk about suicide safely and responsibly. 

 

When helping a grieving friend, co-worker, or someone else bereaved by suicide

A person grieving loss by suicide may be hesitant to talk about suicide for multiple reasons:

  • The silence and social stigma surrounding the issue of suicide makes the grief more complicated

  • Feelings of guilt, shame, anger at a level of intensity they are not used to

 

What the person may need from you:

  • Patience

  • A chance to tell their story (even multiple times)

  • To be heard and understood

  • Nonjudgmental support

Know that it is normal if you to feel awkward at first, but you can better prepare yourself to support a bereaved person by taking the following steps: 

  • Tell the survivor you are sorry for their loss- A simple heartfelt, “I am sorry for your loss,” is an appropriate response. Do not make statements such as, “You’re young, you’ll marry again.” Or, “At least you have other children.” Or, “I know how you feel.” These are not comforting statements.

  • Avoid potentially hurtful language- Try not to say 'committed' suicide. This harks back to a time when suicide was a crime and some bereaved people find it distressing. You can say died by suicide or took their life.

  • Don’t avoid the subject- Avoiding talking about suicide only creates a barrier for when the person may be ready to talk more openly about their experience and grief.

  • Remember that grief is an individualistic journey- Although you may have experienced grief in your life, suicide related grief is complex. Suicide is a death like no other and survivors are left to struggle with a pain like no other. You most likely do not know how the survivor is feeling.

  • Be aware of survivor grief support in your community- Many survivors have found it very helpful to attend a suicide survivor support group where they can exchange support, information and encouragement. They need to know they are not alone. These groups are specific to grief from suicide.

Messaging to an Audience on the Topic of Suicide 

Some content related to suicide can increase the likelihood that a vulnerable individual will attempt suicide. For this reason, certain content should be avoided.

Things you should do:

  • Highlight effective treatments for underlying mental health problems. Over 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from a significant psychiatric illness, substance abuse disorder or both at the time of their death.

  • When possible, emphasize help-seeking and provide information on finding help. When recommending mental health treatment, provide concrete steps for finding help.

  • Set a positive tone for your message. Positive messages like suicide is preventable, help is available, and treatment works should be easily understood by your readers. 

Things you should avoid:

  • Presenting a simplistic explanation for a suicide or suicide attempt or tying the suicide to one single event.

    • Instead of mentioning a cause, add a sentence or two about the complexities of suicide and share the warning signs of suicide. 

  • Describing or showing images of a suicide method or location.

    • Instead, state the person died by suicide and leave it at that. “Carlos died by suicide.”

    • If you would like to use a photo of the person who died, use a school, work, or family photo.

    • Include a hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers in place of graphic images.

  • Focusing on a particular person or details of the person who died by suicide.

    • Only include details that may help put the suicide into context. Use the person’s story broadly to talk about prevention, coping, and how to seek help.

  • Misusing data.

    • Use and talk about data appropriately to avoid overstating the problem and undermining prevention efforts.

    • Suicide is an important public health issue, but is not an epidemic.

    • Use less sensational and accurate phrases like ”rise” or ”increase” to describe trends in data.

  • Stating that a suicide is inexplicable or was “without warning.”

    • Never miss an opportunity to talk about the warning signs of suicide. Be sure to remind your audience of them.

  • Glorifying or romanticizing the act of suicide or the person who died by suicide.

    • Tell stories that highlight prevention efforts.

  • Spreading negative stereotypes, myths, or stigma related to mental illnesses or suicidal persons.

    • Do your research. Know what stereotypes are out there and the myths that surround suicide and the people who die by suicide.

  • Avoid using stigmatizing language.

    • Describe as “died by suicide” or “killed him/herself.”

    • Be sensitive to survivors by avoiding the phrase “committed suicide.” Use “died by suicide” instead.

Learn more about responsibly communicating about suicide at ReportingOnSuicide.org

What are some common misconceptions about suicide? 

Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement.

Fact: Talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide.

Myth: Only people with a mental illness are suicidal.

Fact: Many people living with a mental illness are not affected by suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and not all people who die by suicide have a mental illness. However, it's believed that many who die by suicide may be experiencing a mental health or substance use issue at the time of their death. 

Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning.

Fact: Many suicides are preceded by suicide risk factors or warning signs (verbal or behaviors). This is why it's important to learn the warning signs and risk factors of suicide to be able to intervene as early as possible. 

Myth: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.

Fact: People experiencing suicidal thoughts are often unsure about living or dying. Most are looking to relieve or end their pain or suffering. Access to support at the right time can prevent suicide.

Myth: People who talk about suicide do not intend to do it. They are just looking for attention. 

Fact: Regardless of intent, people who talk about suicide and dying need your support. Do not ignore! Reach out to the person and find them the support they may be seeking. 

How can I help reduce stigma?  

Be informed! 

Learning the warning signs and how to help someone in a suicidal crisis is a good way to be prepared to help someone. Helping someone in a mental health crisis should be as common as other types of first aid. 

Challenge your own beliefs and attitudes

Examine your own beliefs about suicide. Do you think people who die by suicide are selfish? Quitters? Took the easy way out? These are outdated and incorrect stereotypes that you should challenge. Mental illness is a serious medical condition that needs treatment like diabetes or heart disease. Be mindful in how you talk about and perpetuate common misconceptions about suicide. 

Use your voice

You don't have to lose someone to suicide to get involved or become active in raising suicide awareness. Use your networks, your influence, and platforms to speak out and help end suicide. 

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