Usually when an issue becomes large enough to classify as an epidemic it becomes a central topic of discussion. Unfortunately, many of us don’t quite know how to handle ourselves when it comes to conversations around suicide.
Suicide as a topic of discussion is somewhat of a taboo in our society for a number of reasons.
Many people are uncomfortable talking about death in any regard. The same can be said for the topic of mental illness. Because discussions about suicide usually require talking about both, the subject is often avoided outright.
This stigma can be incredibly isolating.
For someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, it may prevent them from reaching out for help or talking about how they are feeling. For those who have recently lost a loved one to suicide, they may likewise feel unable to reach out for support.
One of the best means of prevention and support for both victims and survivors is open conversation. We owe it to our communities to get better at talking about suicide. Here are some steps we can all make in the right direction in order to end the stigma.
Step 1: Stop
Destigmatizing the conversation around suicide requires, first, confronting some of the unhelpful ways we speak and act about it. Before we can change the conversation, here are some of the things we need to stop doing:
When speaking about suicide, it’s important to recognize that it’s impossible to know who might be struggling.
There is no singular type of person who struggles with mental illness or suicidal ideation. Implying that suicidality should look or present a certain way may increase the feelings of failure and isolation in those who don’t fit the mold.
Often the language around suicide frames it in a way that paints it as criminal or selfish.
This kind of thinking can make people struggling with suicidal thoughts feel ashamed and hesitant to tell anyone they are suffering. It can also make surviving friends and family hesitant to talk about what they’re going through out of fear that their loved one will be judged for taking their own life.
Many people report that after they reach out about struggling with suicidal thoughts people around them start treating them differently. It’s common for members of a family or community to tread extra carefully around a suicidal person as if saying the wrong thing might set them off.
This does not go unnoticed and makes it harder for sufferers to be willing to reach out the next time. Similarly, it can make survivors of suicide feel like their grief is inconvenient or that they are being overemotional.
Reject the idea that depression or grief makes people too fragile to treat normally.
It is never helpful to tell anyone who is struggling for any reason that their pain is insignificant compared to others in the world.
Mental illness affects people regardless of their life situation.
Their pain is real whether or not you think they should be feeling it.
Minimizing will add guilt and only make a person feel worse.
Avoiding discussion of suicide when someone is struggling or has suffered a loss is never helpful. Dodging the topic and pretending everything is fine won’t make the problem go away.
If we stop treating suicide like a dirty word, it will be easier for people to talk about it when they need help.
Step 2: Learn
Knowledge can go a long way toward improving the way we talk about suicide. If you are interested in becoming more comfortable with the topic, a good place to start is learning more about it.
There are many incredible resources that speak in plain language about suicide in a way that is helpful in knowing how to approach the topic. Here are some helpful links to get you started:
- About Suicide: Signs, Facts, and Ways to Help
- Suicide Prevention and Intervention
- Stories from Survivors
- Help Resources for Yourself or Others
- Coping with Suicide Loss and Grief
Step 3: Normalize
As you become more informed, normalize speaking about mental health and suicide in your social circles.
If you have struggled with your own mental health, be willing to speak openly about it. It’s more than likely that others have had similar struggles but have felt alone because of stigma.
Even the way we speak about victims of suicide can be improved by normalizing discussion.
We should be willing to talk about those we have lost to suicide in a way that acknowledges their experience without judgment.
Some people worry this sort of discussion may encourage others to act on their own suicidal thoughts. In fact, the opposite is true.
Open and empathetic acknowledgment of the pain of the victim and the pain of their loss can embolden others to reach out for help without fear of judgment.
Step 4: Ask & Listen
One of the best things you can do to destigmatize the discussion of suicide is to become comfortable with asking and listening.
If you suspect somebody is having a difficult time, make it a normal practice to ask them sincerely about how they’re feeling. If they feel you are a safe person to be vulnerable with they are more likely to open up.
Listen to them without judgment and with the intent to understand.
Treat anybody who opens up to you about mental illness or grief as if it is perfectly normal for them to do so. The more calm empathy people receive, the easier it will be for them to talk. The more people someone is able to talk to, the bigger their support system and the better their chances of recovery.
Another important resource built around listening is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This free resource is for anyone experiencing a crisis and it connects people with skilled crisis counselors who listen and provide immediate support. For more information, visit 988lifeline.org or read our dedicated article.
Step 5: Advocate
As you become more comfortable speaking about suicide in your own social circles, you can use your voice to help others.
Speak up to advocate for better support and resources in your community.
The more community members and leaders are made aware of the prevalence of suicide, the greater the call will be for improved conversation and support for those who are struggling.
— Whether it’s yourself or a loved one, a suicidal crisis can be a scary thing to navigate. That’s why we at Bio-One hope this guide will help you know how to intervene to keep yourself or the people you love safe. We want to create a future where we never have to answer another suicide call again.