World Suicide Prevention Day 2020: Unlearn These Six Myths About Suicide

A number of people across Pakistan die of suicide each year. Yet it is common that even the simple utterance of the words “mental health” in our society is met with confused looks or, worse, amusement. It is not easy to be open about one’s weaknesses in a society in which everybody is focused on competing against one another, rather than extending support to each other. Even if a person opens up about something bothering him or her, the lack of awareness and empathy among people leads such a person to face judgement, ridicule and shame. Such responses dehumanise, invalidate and delegitimise the experiences of a suicidal person.

One of the main reasons why people remain unaware of the seriousness of this issue is that they have associated baseless myths with it. These myths both undermine the importance of the issue as well as justify people's harmful reactions toward those suffering from mental health conditions. There is a great need for us to recognise and unlearn these myths. By unlearning these myths, we will be in a better position to prevent suicide and to give people the compassionate support they need.

One of the most common responses to a person vocalising their struggle with mental health is “you don’t pray enough”. Can you tell someone that if they prayed more, they wouldn’t have cancer? While there is nothing wrong with praying for recovery from a mental health condition, and it definitely has many other benefits, we still have to be proactive. Suicide is a serious health issue and should never be swept under the rug. Be supportive of people with struggles and ask them about it instead of putting them down.

Most people hold the belief that the people who talk about committing suicide would not actually attempt it. However, talking about suicidal thoughts can be a plea for help. If a person talks about committing suicide, you can help in several ways. Encourage him/her to talk, empathize, and help him/her find professional help.

Some people fear that asking directly about suicide will only increase the likelihood of a suicidal person’s committing suicide. On the contrary, it is usually a huge relief for suicidal people to be able to talk about what they are experiencing. It can make them feel hopeful. Their feelings are validated, and they know that somebody cares about them. Asking people if they are suicidal can protect them.

Suicide attempts are often perceived as a tactic to manipulate people into paying them attention. By holding this belief, we are simply overlooking that someone is actually showing a desire to end her/his life. They do not seek attention. They need an escape and they can not think of another way to find that escape than death. Therefore, people who say they want to end their lives should always be taken seriously.

People often say that victims of suicide did not show any prior warning signs. It is more likely that the signs were just not recognized. Some telltale signs include depression, major changes in sleep patterns, withdrawal from friends and family, personality changes, previous suicide attempts, or lack of interest in the future. Signs like these may point to a decision to end the pain of life through suicide.

There is a belief that suicide is a “coward’s way out.” This is incredibly untrue and a lazy way to look at the issue. If someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, we should not be judgemental and unhelpful especially when we do not have any idea about his/her personal circumstances. Suicide is not caused by cowardice. In fact, it is a serious public health problem. People need to be especially mindful about this as judgement and ridicule can convey the worst message to a suicidal person.

There are multiple ways to educate oneself about the major global issue which is suicide. This is not a trivial issue that one can dismiss or consider oneself immune to. Cases of suicide occur even where one least expects them. The news is full of such instances. Be protective of your loved ones. Extend support to each other and practice empathy. And if someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts, please contact a professional.