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7 Myths About Suicide

The recent tragedies of Kate Spade's and Anthony Bourdain's suicides—and the ensuing media storm—raised awareness of suicide as a mental health issue, but also generated a lot of misinformation. This week, the Savvy Psychologist cleans up after the headlines.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD ,
June 15, 2018
Episode #034

Myth #7: Suicidal Thoughts are Rare

Fact: Not so. In my office this week, many people who have sat in the chair across from me have said, “I totally get it. I’ve been there.” And it’s not just folks in treatment who get it.

Suicidal thoughts run on a spectrum. Fleeting thoughts--“How nice would it be to end it all,” or “I wish I could just disappear and be gone forever"--are fairly common. A single thought popping into your head generally isn’t a cause for alarm. (See also: I’m Thinking Crazy Thoughts!) If it happens frequently, however--particularly if you’re struggling through a hard time--your brain may be asking you to seek some help.

Moving up the spectrum of concern, passive suicidal thoughts are wishes to die without a deliberate attempt. These include hoping to get hit by a bus, or thinking, “If I went to sleep and didn’t wake up, that would be OK.” One step higher are active suicidal thoughts, like thinking about jumping in front of a bus, or actively thinking about committing suicide. The last, most worrisome level includes making a specific plan, like when, where, and how to kill yourself.

If someone confesses suicidal thoughts to you, however, don’t try to evaluate where they fall on the spectrum: it’s wiser and safer to always take them seriously.  

To wrap up, calls to crisis hotlines have surged since Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths. It demonstrates how many people are hurting, but also how many are feeling empowered, reaching out, and finding a listening ear. 

If you’re struggling, two hotlines are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-NAMI (6264.)

And if you’re moved to help, consider volunteering or donating. You’ll find a link to mental health charities with the greatest impact in the show notes at quickanddirtytips.com/savvy-psychologist..

Get more savvy by subscribing to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, or get the episode delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for the newsletter.  Plus, follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photos of figures on ledge and man under tree courtesy of Shutterstock.

References

http://www.afsp.org/

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers?currentPage=all

https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs

Dahlberg, L., Ikeda, R.M. & Kresnow, M.  (2004).  Guns in the home and risk of a violent death in the home: Findings from a national study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 160, 929-936.

Kellermann, A.L. & Reay, D.T. (1986).  Protection or peril? An analysis of firearm-related deaths in the home. The New England Journal of Medicine, 314, 1557-60.

Pirkis, J., Spittal, M.J., Cox, G., Robinson, J., Cheung, Y.T.D. & Studdert, D.  (2013). The effectiveness of structural interventions at suicide hotspots: a meta-analysis.  International Journal of Epidemiology, 42, 541-8.

Seiden, R. H. (1978).  Where Are They Now? A Follow-up Study of Suicide Attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 8, 203–216.

Stack, S. (2002).  Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. Injury Prevention, 8 Suppl 4, IV30-2.

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