Debunking 5 Myths about Suicide 

By Taylor Oberhelman-McLeod, MA, PLPC

Suicide is a global public health concern that leaves a profound impact on individuals, families, and communities. In 2021, an estimated 1.7 million individuals attempted suicide, while over 48,000 lives were lost to suicide in the United States, ranking suicide as a leading cause of death (CDC). Amidst this reality, misunderstandings about suicide can perpetuate stigma and slow efforts to prevent suicide. To honor September as National Suicide Prevention Month, encourage candid conversations, and contribute to a more compassionate and well-informed approach to suicide prevention, let’s look at five myths and facts about suicide. 

Myth 1: Suicide only impacts certain demographics 

Fact: Anyone can be impacted by suicide, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. However, some populations face a higher risk. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the highest suicide rates are reported among non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native communities, followed by non-Hispanic White individuals. Additionally, elevated rates of suicide are observed among members of the LGBTQIA+ community (particularly among youth), veterans, people of color, and those residing in rural areas. Understanding these risk factors is crucial for targeted prevention efforts.

Myth 2: Suicides typically happen without warning 

Fact: It’s a common misconception that suicide occurs suddenly and without any forewarning. In reality, individuals often exhibit warning signs before attempting suicide. These signs may include:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Frequent feelings of hopelessness 
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Talking or writing about death
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsive/reckless behavior
  • Giving away possessions
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones
  • Exploring ways to harm themselves 
  • Lack of pleasure and involvement in things they used to enjoy (hobbies, work, school)

Risk factors for increased suicidality include: 

  • Family history of suicide 
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Recent loss 
  • Serious or chronic mental health condition 
  • Access to lethal weapons 
  • Substance abuse 

Myth 3: Once individuals are suicidal, they can’t be helped

Fact: Suicidal thoughts are often temporary, and with the right support, intervention, and treatment, individuals can find relief, hope, and a path to recovery. 

Myth 4: People who die by suicide are selfish 

Fact: Individuals who die by suicide or attempt it are typically in a state of extreme emotional distress. In this state, their decisions are often driven by intense emotions rather than logical thought. It’s important to understand that their actions are not driven by selfishness; instead, they may likely believe they have no other options at that moment due to their mental state.

Myth 5: Bringing up the topic of suicide can plant the idea in someone’s head

Fact: Contrary to the myth that bringing up suicide can trigger self-harm, asking someone if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or planning to harm themselves does not increase the likelihood of them doing so. Initiating conversations about suicide serves an important purpose: it reduces the stigma surrounding this difficult topic and enhances the likelihood that someone in distress will seek help or reach out to their support network. While discussing suicide may initially seem daunting, educating ourselves about warning signs, risk factors, and available resources equips us to better support our community members facing these challenges. 

Seeking Support:

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or needs help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the following resources: