People don’t like to talk about suicide. We don’t even like to say the word. We have these euphemisms (to ‘off yourself’, ‘end it all’, ‘take your own life’) to make the topic easier to avoid. It makes us uncomfortable, and to an extent this is natural; we don’t like to talk about things that scare us.
But this lack of talking creates a stigma around suicide, and that makes it harder for people dealing with suicidal thoughts and survivors of suicide to seek help. The only way we can ease this stigma is by starting a dialogue about suicide and shedding some of the myths that surround it.
Myth: Suicide isn’t very common.
Fact: Approximately twice as many people die by suicide each year as those who die as a result of armed conflict. Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of deaths among people aged 15-24 in Canada. In the last ten years, more young men in Ontario have died by suicide than have died in car accidents. And for each of these deaths, dozens of friends and family members are affected. If your life hasn’t been touched by suicide, chances are someone you know has.
Myth: Once someone has made up their mind to die, they can’t be helped.
Fact: Suicide can be prevented with intervention. Most people who have suicidal inclinations do not want to die, but are in fact looking to stop the pain they are experiencing. With professional help, people who are suicidal can identify other ways to cope with their pain that do not involve self-harm.
Myth: People who talk about suicide do it to get attention.
Fact: Most people who consider suicide try to get help by telling a trusted friend or family member about their feelings or hinting about their plans. If someone tells you they’re thinking about suicide, you should always take them seriously.
Myth: You shouldn’t bring up suicide if you think someone might be depressed because it could give them the idea.
Fact: If someone is not considering suicide, mentioning the topic won’t make them suicidal. If the person is in fact thing thinking about suicide, asking a direct question (like, ‘Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?’) gives them the opportunity to confess their feelings to you and get professional help. Although it might be an awkward question, it could help save someone’s life.
So what do you do if you think a friend might be in crisis? If you are concerned about a friend who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, some warning signs to look out for include isolating themselves from family and friends, expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, taking uncharacteristic risks (such as speeding, fighting, lawbreaking or self-mutilation) and making final arrangements (like giving away possessions or saying goodbyes).
However, this list is not comprehensive and you might notice different changes in behaviour in someone you know well. One of the most helpful things you can do is ask the person if they are considering self-harm, as this gives them the opportunity to share their feelings with you. If someone does tell you they are considering suicide, try not to express horror or disgust; instead, listen without judging and calmly encourage them to get help.
People who are suicidal often subtly communicate their feelings to other people by saying things like, “I wish I wasn’t around” or “Life hardly seems worth it.” If someone you know says similar things or directly mentions their suicidal thoughts to you, you should always take such threats seriously. Finally, remember, you are not equipped to help someone in crisis alone.
Even if a suicidal person has asked you not to tell anyone, you should seek outside help from one of the resources below.
If you are feeling suicidal, please tell someone you trust or contact a professional. There is no shame in getting treatment. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to an emergency room.
Resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts include the McMaster Student Wellness Centre, which is located in the basement of MUSC. Appointments can be made at 905-525-9140 ext. 27700. The Distress Centre of Hamilton maintains a 24-hour crisis line at 905-525-8611. The Crisis Outreach and Support Team of Hamilton-Wentworth also runs a 24-hour crisis line at 905-972-8338