The “S” word – Why are so many people afraid to say it?

A blog post for Suicide Prevention Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.  A whole month dedicated to the 2nd  leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  WHO also reports that there is a death by suicide every 40 seconds worldwide.  In the latest Center for Disease Control report from 2016, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  We can see from these statistics, that suicide is a real problem; why are so many people afraid to talk about it then?  There are a few different answers to this question and I’d like to discuss them in this blog post.

More people think about suicide, or have what we therapists call suicidal ideation, than most people would believe.  Some people may even refer to these types of thoughts as being passively suicidal.  Maybe someone secretly wishes they would be in a car accident, or hope they go to sleep and don’t wake up.  They may have these thoughts, but never actually create a plan to kill themselves.  However,  many don’t talk about it and seek the help they need.  Therefore, people don’t realize how many others are feeling this way.  We know that in our culture mental health conditions can be greatly misunderstood, leading people not to handle these conversations well.  People often feel judged, not heard, and plain worse off than before they had the conversation.  So it makes a lot of sense why people would choose not to share these feelings.  They don’t want to scare people away, they don’t want to look “crazy”.  When in reality, they are in greater company than they know.  They may feel like they are the only one who feels like this, but they are certainly not.

One of the other sides of the coin is that people who aren’t thinking about suicide, are afraid to ask other people if they are.  There’s been a misconception for a long time that if you ask someone if they are thinking about suicide, and they aren’t, you may place the idea in their head.  There has been no research/evidence to support this theory.  More often than not, when you ask someone if they are okay, if they are thinking about suicide, you have opened the door to a conversation, that many cannot open on their own.  You have used the “s” word for them.  You have shown you care enough to ask the hard question, and in doing so, you may have just saved someone’s life.  While it is not your responsibility to save their life, you can certainly assist them in getting the help they may desperately need.

This is my challenge to you.  Many of us know people who are struggling – who are hurting – who are going through very rough times.  We may even know that they struggle with depression, or have struggled with thoughts of suicide in the past.  My challenge to you is to reach out.  To check on those you love.  To ask them if they’re okay, to ask them the hard question; “are you thinking about suicide?”  I can promise you, this is one question you won’t regret asking, but one that you may regret that you didn’t ask instead.