Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Myths about suicide

Tony Scott's death by suicide is tragic and brings attention to an often misunderstood cause of death.

I believe that everyone has the right to choose to take their own life but I'd much prefer that this did not happen - after all, someone wanting to take their life on one day and be ready to do so, may not be so inclined the next day. Completing suicide is final.

Reports of suicide in the media can influence suicide rates, and the Samaritans movement has press guidelines for the reporting of suicide in the pres. For example:
1. Avoid explicit or technical details of suicide in reports.

Providing details of the mechanism and procedure used to carry out a suicide may lead to the imitation of suicidal behaviour by other people at risk.

For example, reference can be given to an overdose but not reference to the specific type and number of tablets used. Similarly, saying someone "hanged themselves" is better than saying they "hanged themselves using their own school shirt from their bedroom door".

Particular care should be taken in specifying the type and number of tablets used in an overdose and material / method used in hanging and ligatures. In retrospective reporting or reconstructions, actual depiction of means should be avoided, for example showing the drawing of blood in self-harm. Use of a long shot or a cutaway is better.

However, a cursory look at various newspaper websites doesn't make it hard to find out how, where, when etc. that Tony Scott completed suicide. Sadly, irresponsible reporting of suicide is nothing new - Ben Goldacre wrote an article about it in 2009, and this isn't the first case this year of poor reporting. You must read Ben Goldacre's piece from 2009.
If you see irresponsible reporting of suicide in the press, do take the time to complain to the Press Complaints Commission, or directly to the news source its self - if they don't have the humanity to do this for themselves, then something needs to be done.

In the meantime, I'm reproducing the Samaritans Media Myths on suicide:

MYTH: You have to be mentally ill to think about suicide.
FACT: Most people have thought of suicide from time to time and not all people who die by suicide have mental health problems at the time of death. The majority of people who kill themselves do have such problems, typically to a serious degree and often undiagnosed, but feelings of desperation and hopelessness are more accurate predictors of suicide.

MYTH: People who talk about suicide aren’t really serious and are not likely to actually kill themselves.
FACT: People who kill themselves have often told someone that they do not feel life is worth living or that they have no future. Some may have actually said they want to die. People may talk about suicide as a way of getting the attention they need, but it is very important that everyone who says they feel suicidal is treated seriously.

MYTH: Once a person has made a serious suicide attempt, that person is unlikely to make another.
FACT: Those who have attempted suicide once are 100 times more likely than the general population to do so again. Around four out of ten people who die by suicide will have attempted suicide previously.

MYTH: If a person is serious about killing themselves then there is nothing you can do.
FACT: Feeling suicidal is often a temporary state of mind. Whilst someone may feel low or distressed for a sustained period the actual suicidal crisis can be relatively short term. Offering appropriate and timely help and emotional support to people who areexperiencing deep unhappiness and distress can reduce the risk ofthem dying by suicide.

MYTH: Talking about suicide is a bad idea as it may give someone the idea to try it.
FACT: When someone feels suicidal they often do not want to worry or frighten others and so do not talk about the way they feel. By asking directly about suicide you give them permission to tell you how they feel. People who have been through such a crisis will often say that it was a huge relief to be able to talk about their suicidal thoughts. Once someone starts talking and exploring their feelings and worst fears they have a greater chance of discovering options other than suicide.

MYTH: Most suicides happen in the winter months.
FACT: Suicide is more common in the spring and summer months.

MYTH: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
FACT: People may well talk about their feelings because they want support in dealing with them. The response of those close to a person who has attempted suicide can be important to their recovery and giving them the attention they need may save their life. An attempted suicide should always be taken seriously.

MYTH: People who are suicidal want to die.
FACT: The majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die but they do not want to live the life they have. Offering emotional support and talking through other options can help people come through a suicidal crisis and make the difference between them choosing to live and deciding to die.

MYTH: Women are more likely to kill themselves.
FACT: More women say they have considered suicide but far more men than women die by suicide every year.

For references and more info, visit the Samaritans Media Centre.

Samaritans is available for anyone in any type of distress on 08457 90 90 90 in the UK or 1850 60 90 90 in the Republic of Ireland or by email at jo@samaritans.org

UPDATE: Changed the Samaritans links, as they updated their website. I have not checked that the myths I've reproduced are the same as those on their new website.


  1. ofthem -> of them

  2. I take it you've never lurked in a.s.h. then?


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