Demystifying Suicide

Even in an Internet universe with no secrets, suicide is still a touchy subject. Within the intervention community, we’ve learned that it’s important to talk about it with humility, conscious of our own strengths and weaknesses as prevention counselor.

We all see the world through our own filters. Biases can get in the way of perceiving things as they really are. When dealing with a potentially suicidal person, openness of spirit is important.

There are many myths about what is, essentially, a horrible, brutal act. A myth offers the advantage of being a simple explanation for a complex set of phenomena. When someone close to you tells you they’re contemplating taking that final exit, one can always fall back on these myths. It’s important not to jump to conclusions when intervening. Succumbing to easy stereotypes is worse than useless. It’s natural for us to pigeonhole people. If someone is close to you, and is thinking in this way, the myths tend to fall into three categories:

  • I shouldn’t intervene. No one should ever try to intervene. After all, someone threatening suicide is just looking for attention. They want to manipulate us. They just want to be the centre of attention.
  • I’m not responsible. After all, if someone wants to take their own life, there’s no way to stop them. I can’t do anything to change that. Suicidal tendencies are hereditary, after all, and I’m no psychiatrist…
  • It’s best to close my eyes to the whole sad situation. After all, talking about suicide with someone who has those sorts of dark ideas in the first place will only fan the flames. It’ll encourage them. It’s not my responsibility. They’ll get over their depression and bounce back. Things’ll calm down…

The reality is very different. If someone close to us is feeling low enough to be thinking of ending it all, or if we suspect a depressed friend or family member is heading that way, we are all responsible. We can all help. It is a human duty.
You can feel impotent in the face of someone talking suicide. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing can be petrifying:

  • What if she actually goes through with it, and I get blamed?
  • What if he really does commit suicide, and I end up blaming myself?
  • I’m not good enough at this to be responsible for another life…
  • What if I end up thinking about suicide myself? Suicide is a threatening subject. For reasons of self-preservation, one’s first instinct is to withdraw. Confronting your own mortality can be chilling.

Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT

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