The topic of suicide is taboo in our society. It’s something that we don’t talk about openly or even at all,  not even within our families. And if we do, then sometimes we can be brusquely dismissive with words along the lines of “I don’t want to hear any more of that ridiculous talk”. We hold views around it that have been passed down and we view them as facts. They are not all facts. My work at The Listening Place, a sanctuary in Pimlico, London, that helps people struggling with suicidal thoughts,  has shown that many of these are, in fact, myths. I’m sure you’ll recognise many of them.

  • Talking about suicide puts those thoughts into someone’s mind.  False. Talking about suicide does not give people the idea. They’ll have the thought themselves already. But it does help them to talk things through and to be really listened to with concern and empathy and warmth.
  • Suicide always occurs without warning. False. There will always be signs. Acute emotional distress is hard to hide.
  • Suicidal people are fully intent on dying. False. They don’t always want to die as much as they don’t want to carry on living like this.
  • All people who take their life are mentally ill. False. Some are, but not all. Some are just going through a tough time at the moment.
  • Suicidal people are totally committed to the notion of dying. False. It comes and goes. There’s no absolute commitment to dying.
  • Talking about suicide is attention seeking behaviour. True. Yes, this one is true but not in the dismissive way we commonly use it. It’s a cry for help from someone who is in acute emotional distress. That person needs to be given the attention they are needing to help them through an acutely dark place.
  • When the emotion lifts the danger is over. True but also False. When they seem lighter and happier it can be that they are feeling better, but it can mean they’ve made their decision to end their life. They’ve made their plan and they know that come Tuesday next week, the unendurable pain is all over. And the relief of that brings a lightness of mood. Be very vigilant of a sudden change in mood of a suicidal person.  
  • The majority of suicidal people don’t ever seek medical help. False. 75% of successful suicides had actually visited their doctor. Getting support following seeing the doctor can take months and anti-depressants also take time to be effective …
  • There’s a ‘type’ of person who is suicidal. False. It can happen to anybody. Nobody is safe. There is no stereotype.

If anybody you know struggles with suicidal feelings from time to time, listen to them with care and warmth and empathy and hold in your mind that they don’t really want to die, they just don’t want to carry on living like this. And if it’s you who is struggling at the moment, you can always call  The Listening Place on 020 3966 7676.

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