Common Misconceptions About Suicide

Andrew with my younger brother and his sister in Sicily off the coast of the Egadi Islands. Summer 2007

Since Andrew’s suicide, I have often thought that had my son not been able to get to the tenth floor of NYU’s library, Bobst, he would not have killed himself. The moment would have passed and he would have lived to see another day, and another and another. He would still be here today. Since his death, there have been people who have told me in confidence of their own suicide attempts, and they have told me how grateful they are now that at the time, something or someone prevented them for carrying out their plans. But suicide is a subject that is shoved under the rug, as a result it is shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. I know that first hand from the way NYU reacted to my son’s death; they put out a statement and after that it was back to business by 9 a.m. I also know it from the internet chatter that followed his death. Some commentators criticized the library itself as well as NYU’s lack of security, while others wrote that when someone is determined to kill himself, he’ll find a way. Instinctively I have felt the latter not to be true and I am pleased to have found my instincts supported by research, and by the literature put out by The Samaritans. Here is what they say about suicide:

“…Most people can be helped in getting through their moment of crisis if they have someone who will spend time with them, listen, take them seriously and help them talk about their thoughts and feelings. Almost every suicidal crisis has at its center a strong ambivalence: “I can’t handle the pain anymore,” but not necessarily, “I want to be dead forever!” What most suicidal people want is not to be dead but some way to get through the terrible pain they are experiencing and someone they can turn to during those terrible moments of fear and desperation.
The Samaritans they say, “You don’t save the life of a person who is feeling suicidal, you help him or her get through the moment.”

Common Misconceptions About Suicide
There are many myths and misconceptions people have about suicide. The most common include:

“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”
NOT TRUE The majority of people who attempt suicide do or say something to express their intention before they act. Do not ignore threats or statements like, “I wish I was dead” or “You’ll be sorry when I’m gone,” no matter how casually they may be stated.
“Anyone who tries to kill him or herself must be crazy.”
NOT TRUE Most people have reasons for their suicidal feelings. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but are not necessarily suffering from mental illness.
“If a person is determined to kill him or herself nothing is going to stop them.”
NOT TRUE Even the most severely depressed person has ambivalent feelings about suicide. Most suicidal people do not want to die, they just want their pain to end. Most depressions, with time, will alleviate and the suicidal impulses will, ultimately, dissipate.
“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”
NOT TRUE You don’t create self-destructive feelings in another person. Talking with someone about his or her suicidal feelings may lead to a discussion of upsetting or painful thoughts that were already there but hidden beneath the surface. Openly addressing the subject shows a willingness to help and is the first step towards intervention.”

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2 thoughts on “Common Misconceptions About Suicide

  1. Thank you for this post – My father who was a policeman once coached me on how to deal with someone that talks about suicide. His coaching to me was to treat it as real. Take the time to listen. Yes, he or she wants attention – why not give it. Spend time with them, let them know there is light at the end of the dark tunnel. My friend that I got the coaching for is alive today. She talked of suicide often as the world around her had collapsed. She had seen what happens when a friend of hers was put on 24 hr watch at a local mental hospital. Her friend was put on lithium and changed so much that she didn’t know her anymore. My friend had asked me to make sure that if her family commited her for a suicide watch that she wouldn’t be put on lithium.
    Adventually through our friendship the Suicide issues went away on their own.

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