September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is an important topic because sadly statistics are showing an increase in rates in the United States. Even more alarming, in 2016 suicide was reported as the number 2 cause of death amongst young people ages 10-34. This statistic alone is enough to cause every mother to shudder in fear. The point of this blog today isn’t to create more fear around a complicated topic, but to bring us closer to the topic. It is so common to run away from topics that we fear, but if we lean in, learn more, and equip ourselves with information, we can help make a real difference in the lives of those struggling. There are some common myths about suicide that are important to understand as a mom, wife, and friend.
Myth #1: Talking about suicide puts the idea in their heads
This is the number one myth, especially when it comes to talking to our children. There is a fear that if we talk about it with others, perhaps we place a thought in their head and may actually cause more harm. This is a myth that has been debunked over and over again. Many people, and especially adolescents are afraid of these unwanted thoughts and tend to feel “broken” and stigmatized. Starting a difficult conversation can help your loved ones know that the topic will not scare you away. Trust your gut as a mother as to when to have this conversation. There are great guides and resources for parents to help you have a developmentally appropriate conversation.
Myth #2: There are no warning signs
There are various warning signs but they can vary by age. A huge universal warning sign is withdrawing from connections with family and friends. For adults there can be more concrete signs like an increase in alcohol or substance use, giving away possessions, or an attempt to “tie up loose ends.” In teens this can look like an increase in reckless behavior (i.e. sexual promiscuity, truancy, drug use), also a dramatic change in personality is a sign as well. Feel free to familiarize yourself with warning signs in the links below.
Myth #3: Only People with Mental Health Conditions are at risk
54% of all individuals who have lost their lives to suicide did not have a diagnosable mental health condition. Many people who experience suicidal thoughts are dealing with extreme circumstances or coping with deep emotions. The act of suicide is an individual’s attempt to control deep painful emotions. It is not an act of selfishness and thoughts of suicide do not mean that this individual is doomed to a lifetime of struggle. With appropriate treatment, individuals can live long, happy and healthy lives. Understanding this myth can be powerful when it comes to ending the stigma around suicide and help counterbalance the fear associated with talking about it.
Myth #4: There is nothing you can do
False! Feel empowered that there is something you can do. Starting the conversation around suicide is a huge powerful step in showing your loved one that you care. Sometimes the fear of what to do next keeps us from having the conversation. Think of yourself as the liaison between the person struggling and the help. This is a powerful role, but you do not have to take on the stress of trying to “fix” everything. Reaching out to a licensed mental health professional is the next step. Don’t try to take on the burden of doing that job. You get to keep your job as a friend, mom, partner.
There is also evidence to show that access to a firearm as well as substances such as alcohol or medication is a risk factor of death by suicide. If you have the ability to control these aspects of your loved one’s environment, empower yourself to do so.
Myth #5: Hotlines are only for individuals struggling
Okay, so this one may not be a myth, but it is a lesser-known fact that most 24-hour hotlines and support are only for the individuals who are struggling. Not true! If you need a second option, a pep talk, or someone to walk you through the process of getting help, these hotlines are also designed for you. I hope these tools and information help you feel empowered when it comes to dealing with difficult issues like suicide as a mother, friend and loved one.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255