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Stigma of suicide
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, secrets and stigma obscure the causes of suicide and can even stymy prevention.
"Suicide is a major public health issue that gets short shrift on the attention paid to it, because people don't want to talk about it," said Dr. Adam Kaplin, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
Here are some of the leading myths about suicide and the truth behind them.
Suicide peaks over the holidaysSlide 2 of 11
Suicide peaks over the holidays
Given the hustle-bustle and stress so many people feel around the holidays, it's perhaps no surprise the myth persists that suicides spike during the winter months. In fact, suicide does show some seasonal patterns. But peaks, when they occur, are actually in the spring.
This spring seasonality pattern dates back to the late 1800s; one 1995 study of suicide rates around the world published in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that in the Northern Hemisphere, suicide spiked in May. This effect is strongest in agricultural nations and in temperate climates, where seasonal differences are more pronounced. Researchers aren't sure why these seasonal patterns exist, but a leading theory holds that social life becomes more intense in the warmer months, putting extra stressors on people struggling with mental health.Slide 3 of 11
Putting ideas in people's headsSlide 4 of 11
Putting ideas in people's heads
When someone seems depressed, their loved ones may fear asking if they're having suicidal thoughts, worrying they'll put the idea in the person's head.
Not the case, experts say. In fact, mental health professionals say that if you're worried about someone, the best thing to do is to talk with them openly. Asking someone if they're having suicidal thoughts will not put those thoughts in his or her head; talking about it, as hard as it is, may help that person break the tension and secrecy that feeds into suicidal behavior. And, above all, talking helps that person get help.
When talking to someone about suicide, don't try to talk them out of it, advises the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Phrases like, "You have so much to live for," may fall flat for someone in the grips of suicidal thoughts. Compassion and empathy are key. The AFSP advises words like, "Things must be really awful for you to be feeling that way." Never leave a suicidal person alone, and make sure they have no access to lethal means such as firearms. [Suicide: Red Flags and Warning Signs]Slide 5 of 11
Suicidal talk is just attention-seekingSlide 6 of 11
Suicidal talk is just attention-seeking
A common myth holds that people who talk about suicidal thoughts or people who self-injure are just crying out for attention, while the ones who never say a word are the ones to worry about.
Not true. Talking about dying or harming oneself is one of the major warning signs of a suicide attempt, according to the AFSP. Not everyone who attempts suicide will signal their intentions, of course; but just because someone is talking about suicide does not mean they are somehow safe.
If someone discusses wanting to die or commit suicide, or is researching ways to kill themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and do not leave that person alone.Slide 7 of 11
Most people leave a noteSlide 8 of 11