11 Myths and Misperceptions about Suicide

This week, we will focus attention on the subject of suicide. We will seek to understand this growing, heart-wrenching problem in our fallen world. As we learn to be wise friends and counselors, let’s also pray that we will grow in ministering the grace and truth of Jesus Christ to those who have lost all hope, and the desire to live, as well as those whose lives have been forever changed by the death of another.

Today’s post is written by police and fire chaplain, and pastor, Bruce Ray, author of HELP! My Friend Is Suicidal.

There are many myths and misperceptions about suicide that hinder us from dealing effectively with suicidal persons. Here are some of them, with brief comments:

  1. Suicide is always caused by depression. Actually, other factors such as anger, revenge, remorse and drug and alcohol abuse may be more dominant influences. Bill and Mary was a young couple who were living together. They went to a bar to celebrate a special occasion. Both had been drinking and Bill accused Mary of flirting with another bar patron. They argued all the way home, where Bill decided to show Mary how upset he was by forcing her to watch him commit suicide in front of her.
  2. People who talk about suicide won’t really do it – they just want attention. It is true that sometimes suicide “attempts” are cries for help, but remember the boy who cried “Wolf!” One day the wolf actually came, and no one believed him. It is dangerous to assume that a suicide threat is “only” to get attention.
  3. Thinking about suicide means you will commit suicide.  Many people have fleeting occasional suicidal thoughts, but do not act on them. A key concern is when thinking about suicide extends to the point of actually making a plan.
  4. If you talk about suicide to a suicidal subject, you may encourage her to do it.  The fear of pushing someone over the edge leads us to avoid the subject. Actually, talking about her thoughts and feelings to someone who is really listening and interacting may be a release for the suicidal subject that makes it unnecessary for her to act.
  5. A true believer cannot commit suicide. Samson was chosen by God to be one of the judges who would deliver and protect his people from the Philistines (Judges 13-16). Despite his many faults, Samson seems to have been a true believer who prayed for God to give him the strength to collapse the Philistine temple on his captors even though it meant his own death as well.  Samson is named in “the great faith chapter” of the Bible (Hebrews 11) as one of many “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised” (Hebrews 11:32-33) [Some question whether Samson’s death was a case of suicide or martyrdom.] Other factors may affect the decisions believers make. Pastor Bob stunned everyone when he put a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger one night. Weeks later, his wife discovered that a new heart medication he was taking listed depression and suicidal ideation as possible side-effects. If they had known, they could have removed all guns from the house as a precaution and discussed changing the medication with his cardiologist.
  6. Suicide happens without warning.  Actually, most people give warning signs that they are considering suicide. The problem is that often we don’t recognize they were warning signs until after the fact.
  7. Once suicidal, always suicidal. Not true. The primary value of a 72-hour involuntary commitment by a mental health professional is that it puts a suicidal subject in a safe place and enables him or her to get past a critical period and reconsider other options.
  8. The risk goes down when the mood goes up. Not necessarily true. Actually, the mood may seem to improve because a decision has been made.
  9. Suicidal people are intent on dying. More often, suicidal persons want to end the pain and think they are out of options and out of hope. Not wanting to go on living as you are is not the same as wanting to die.
  10. Suicide runs in families. That’s often true, but that doesn’t mean suicide is hereditary. It is more likely that family history provides unhealthy patterns of dealing with issues and “permission” to end life when solutions can’t be easily found.
  11. Someone who commits suicide must be mentally ill. Nevada’s suicide prevention plan authoritatively declares, “90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health and/or substance use disorder at the time of death.” Only four sentences later, however, it acknowledges that “over 90% of the people that died by suicide in Nevada had not been seen by a mental health professional.” [Nevada State Department of Health and Human Services]. Then how were they diagnosed?  This sounds like circular reasoning to me: “People who commit suicide must be mentally ill. Jenny committed suicide; Jenny must have been mentally ill.” That argument will quickly discredit you when talking with a suicidal subject.

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