Mental Health and Suicide
Myths and Facts

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If you need support or are worried about a love one, call our crisis line. Mental health problems and thoughts of suicide are common, but you don’t need to go through them alone.

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Myth

Mental health problems don't affect me.

Fact

Mental health problems are common. One in five Americans will experience a mental health issue.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It accounts for the loss of more than 38,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide.

Myth

Children don't experience mental health problems.

Fact

Even young children may show early warning signs of mental health problems.

Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24.

Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children and teens with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.

Myth

People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

Fact

People with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

Myth

Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.

Fact

Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury or brain chemistry.
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse.
  • Family history of mental health problems.

People with mental health problems can get better and recover with proper treatment.

Myth

There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover.

Fact

Studies show that people with mental health problems can get better and recover. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, laugh, love, learn and participate fully in their lives. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.

Myth

Therapy and self-help are a waste of time. Why bother when you can just take a pill?

Fact

Treatment for mental health problems varies depending on the individual and could include medication, therapy or both. Many individuals work with a support system during the healing and recovery process.

Myth

I can't do anything for a person with a mental health problem.

Fact

Friends and loved ones can make a big difference.

Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need by:

  • Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help.
  • Helping them access mental health services.
  • Learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true.
  • Treating them with respect, just as you would anyone else.

Myth

Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will put the idea in their head or increase their risk.

Fact

Talking openly about suicide allows the person to get those feelings off their chest. It also helps the person feel less alone. The first step in encouraging a person with thoughts of suicide to live comes from talking about those feelings. A simple inquiry about whether or not the person is planning to end their life can start the conversation.

Myth

Young people who talk about suicide never attempt or die by suicide.

Fact

Talking about suicide can be a plea for help and it can be a late sign in the progression towards a suicide attempt. Those who are most at risk will show other signs apart from talking about suicide. If you have concerns about a young person who talks about suicide:

  • Encourage them to talk further and help them to find appropriate counseling assistance.
  • Ask if the person is thinking about making a suicide attempt.
  • Ask if the person has a plan.
  • Think about the completeness of the plan and how dangerous it is. Do not trivialize plans or their feelings. All suicidal intentions are serious and must be acknowledged as such.
  • Encourage the young person to develop a personal safety plan. This can include time spent with others, check-in points with significant adults and plans for the future.

Myth

Suicide attempts or deaths happen without warning.

Fact

There are usually warning signs before a suicide attempt or death. Individuals must be aware of the warning signs to recognize them in others. These warning signs include:

  • The recent suicide, or death by other means, of a friend or relative.
  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • Talking, writing or posting about death or expressing suicidal thoughts.
  • Changes in mood.
  • Major changes in sleep patterns – too much or too little.
  • Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits/losing or gaining weight.
  • Withdrawal from friends/family or other major behavioral changes.
  • Dropping out of group activities.
  • Personality changes such as nervousness, outbursts of anger, impulsive or reckless behavior, or apathy about appearance or health.
  • Frequent irritability or unexplained crying.
  • Lack of purpose.
  • Substance use.
  • Isolation.
  • Lack of interest in the future.
  • A sudden improvement in mood after a period of depression or suicidal thoughts can indicate the person has made a plan to end their life and feels relieved.

Myth

If a person attempts suicide and survives, they will never make a further attempt.

Fact

A suicide attempt is an indicator of future attempts. If the person did not die during their first attempt, it is likely the person will choose a more lethal means for their next attempt, making it more dangerous.

Myth

Once a person is intent on suicide, there is no way of stopping them.

Fact

Suicide can be prevented. People can be helped. Suicidal crises can be short-lived. Immediate, practical help such as staying with the person, encouraging them to talk and helping them build plans for the future, or calling a crisis line can avert the intention to attempt suicide.

Once immediate help is offered, ongoing support and professional treatment may be required for long-term recovery.

Myth

People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.

Fact

All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die. Do not dismiss a suicide attempt. It is likely the person has tried to gain attention and, therefore, attention is needed. The attention they get may save their life.

Myth

Suicide is hereditary.

Fact

Although suicide can be over-represented in families, attempts are not genetically inherited. Members of families share the same emotional environment, and the death by suicide of one family member may raise the awareness of suicide as an option for other family members.

Myth

Once a young person thinks about suicide, they will forever think about suicide.

Fact

Most young people who are considering suicide will only do so for a limited period of their lives. Given proper assistance and support, they will probably recover and continue to lead meaningful and happy lives unhindered by suicidal concerns.

Myth

Most young people thinking about suicide never seek or ask for help with their problems.

Fact

Evidence shows that they often tell their school peers of their thoughts and plans. Most adults with thoughts of suicide visit a medical doctor during the three months prior to killing themselves. Adolescents are more likely to “ask” for help through non-verbal gestures than to express their situation verbally to others.

Myth

Young people thinking about suicide are always angry when someone intervenes and they will resent that person afterwards.

Fact

While it is common for young people to be defensive and resist help at first, these behaviors are often barriers to test how much people care and are prepared to help. For most adolescents considering suicide, it is a relief to have someone genuinely care about them and to be able to share the emotional burden of their experience with another person.

References

Below are helpful organizations that specialize in helping mental health and suicide prevention: 

Mental Health First Aid

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Mental Health Association

The Trevor Project

Youth Suicide Prevention Education Program