Misconceptions about suicide
are very much alive. They are dangerous as they stop us from recognising that someone may be at risk. Worse yet, they deter us from reaching out to provide crucial and necessary support, which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Myth 1: Suicide is caused by depression
To say that depression is the cause of all
suicides is a generalization repeated too often. Suicide is often due to a
combination, sequence or repetition of distressing life events – depression may
just be one of the many stressors a person is struggling with. Someone who isn’t depressed can still be at risk of
suicide and not everyone suffering from depression dies by suicide.
Myth 2: Only those acting moody and sad
Suicide doesn’t have a
‘look.’ It can happen to anyone. Once someone has made
concrete plans to suicide, they can become uncharacteristically happy or
outgoing for reaching a decision. It is thus useful to take note of unusual
emotional and behavioural changes in those around us. If your instinct tells
you sometime is amiss, you may be right.
Myth 3: Suicide is a rare occurrence
and not a concern in Singapore
In Singapore, 429 lives were
lost to suicide in 2016. Over the last five years, there have been 2.4 times as many
suicides as transport accidents. Suicide is also the leading cause of death for
those aged 10 – 29. Due to the difficulties in classifying a death as suicide,
published statistics are almost always an under-estimate
of the actual number. There are also many others who attempt suicide and this
figure is even harder to accurately capture.
Myth 4: Suicides happen on impulse
Impulse plays some role in suicide –
especially in youth, who may not yet be adept at processing and controlling
emotions. At the same time, experience working with suicidal clients tells us that the process of suicide moves through stages such as ideation,
gestures, plans, and attempts. While the act may seem sudden to by-standers,
the decision to take one’s life is often developed over time and through
Myth 5: People who talk about suicide
or who have attempted before won’t actually go through with it
All suicide attempts should
be treated as though the person has the intent to die. A prior suicide attempt
may be a rehearsal or a cry for help from someone in profound distress. This
should not be ignored or treated as a form of attention-seeking. Someone who is
at risk of suicide will also display common warnings signs and risk factors.
Myth 6: Suicidal people want to die
Suicidal individuals are often ambivalent and fluctuate between wanting to live and wanting to die. For a person to contemplate suicide means they are in a situation of helplessness and despair. They want to
get out of their situation but no longer know how to. Death
seems like the only way out of their pain and suffering. Counselling, health,
and mental health support thus play a critical role in recovery.
Myth 7: There are no warning signs to
contemplating suicide would often have communicated their intention. These signs may not always be direct or explicit as
individuals fear being judged by those around them. The fact that you may not
spot these warning signs doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It is therefore crucial to know some
of the common warning signs and risk factors.
Myth 8: Asking someone about suicide encourages them to become
Asking someone if they are
thinking about suicide doesn’t put the idea in their head; neither does it push
them further towards suicide. Talking about suicide encourages them to do
nothing more than to communicate, which is often the first step in getting them
to live. For those contemplating suicide, it may also be a relief that
someone is allowing them to verbalise a struggle they are facing. Asking about
suicide shows that you care and want them to live.
Myth 9: Suicide only affects those from
lower social economic backgrounds
The assumption here is that those
with greater material wealth have lesser reason to take their own lives. However, the fact that celebrity suicides occur is the greatest evidence that this
statement simply isn’t true. Globally, suicide is a public health concern which
cuts across social economic statuses, with South Korea having one of the
highest suicide rates in the developed world.
Myth 10: Suicide is hereditary
is a behavior, not a condition. While multiple suicides can be observed in some families, it isn't hereditary. Instead, those in the same family experience similar
emotional and social environments. Coping methods and styles exhibited by some family
members may also be imitated by others. Social learning is more often cited for
multiple instances of suicide in the same family.
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