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By: Dr. Amy Grosso
For decades, suicide has been a taboo subject in society. While strides have been made in the work around suicide prevention, many myths still exist—and as a result, some decisions impacting critical mental health support are swayed by those myths rather than guided by research.
In honor of Suicide Prevention Month, let’s look at five common myths about suicide—and discuss what research-based facts provide a stronger foundation for suicide prevention.
Myth #1: If we ask about suicide, it will cause someone to consider it.
Reality: Research shows the opposite of this myth. Asking if a person is thinking about suicide does not cause suicidal thoughts, but rather allows the individual to express any harmful thoughts they might be having. It is extremely difficult for a person struggling with thoughts of suicide to reach out. By asking someone if they are considering suicide, you’re opening the door for the individual to get the assistance that is needed.
Myth #2: If a person wants to, they can choose to be happy.
Reality: We would never tell someone with epilepsy that they could control their seizures if they just wanted to. In the same way, mental health issues don’t just snap on and off. It is only with treatment from a licensed professional that a person can slowly overcome the struggles which have led to suicidal thoughts.
Trust your gut, and if you notice a change if a friend or loved one, say something. You might be the only one who notices.
Raptor StudentSafe™ provides a Suicide Risk Assessment process that offers immediate access to a student’s complete chronology, including previous concerns and interventions. This streamlined process helps school counselors and mental health professionals identify and address self-harm behaviors promptly, ensuring better student outcomes.
Myth #4: How we talk about suicide doesn’t matter.
Reality: To lower stigma and ensure students feel safe getting the help they need, it is important our language mirrors our compassion. For example, instead of saying “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide.” Go from saying a “failed suicide attempt,” to saying a “suicide attempt.” By making these changes, suicide is discussed in the same way as other deaths.
When someone dies by suicide there is often judgement from those on the outside. For those who have never struggled with depression or such feelings of hopelessness, it is easy to say the person is selfish and only thinking about themselves. The reality is when a person is in suicidal crisis, their thinking is limited because of the deep emotional and psychological pain they are experiencing. If we approach emotional pain in the same way as physical pain, however, we can move from a place of judgement to empathy.
While these might seem like small changes, it is in our everyday conversation that we have the power to lower stigma so individuals who are struggling feel they can get the assistance needed.
Myth #5: Only trained counselors and doctors can help with suicide prevention.
“I well remember my student who made some veiled suicidal references in class. I asked to speak with her after class and I ultimately referred her to our guidance counselor. That student wrote me a note years later, thanking me for saving her life. Be sensitive to some of the phrases and imagery that kids use that are troubling. They’re cues to when a student needs help.” William Kist, Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Professor Emeritus, Kent State University
Reality: Every person has a part to play when it comes to suicide prevention. It is important to realize suicide prevention is not only crisis work but includes the small things we do every day.
Through research we know there are protective factors for suicide. Examples include:
- Learning to cope with stress and difficulties
- Feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness
This means that when a teacher provides an open and accepting environment in class, teaches lessons on ways to manage stress and emotions, and builds healthy relationships with students, they are doing suicide prevention work.
Suicide Risk Assessments with Raptor StudentSafe
Determining which students are in critical need of intervention is not a simple task. The risk factors and warning signs are often spread out, presenting themselves at different times and with different observers.
Raptor StudentSafe can help. By empowering your school staff with easy-to-use documentation of their concerns—including the early warning signs of a student in crisis—your school counselors will be better able to provide support.
Guide to K-12 Student Wellbeing
Strategies to Recognize, Document, and Support Students in Distress