In 2013, more than 41,000 Americans committed suicide. To put that into perspective, 41,000 people could fill all of the seats of the Sydney Opera House 20 times over. To transport 41,000 people, one would need roughly 130 airplanes, 820 busses or 10,000 cars. Suicide is so prevalent that, in 2013, it was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In that year, someone died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.
Over the years, suicide has gained its own mythology. Suicide has been viewed as romantic, honorable, selfish, logical, illogical, despicable, heroic – the list goes on and on. But what is suicide really?
Here are five common myths about suicide.
MYTH: Suicides peak during the winter months
This myth makes intuitive sense. Winter, after all, can be a depressing season – the days are short, the weather is cold and life itself can often slow to a crawl. People are more likely to stay indoors rather than go out and experience adventures. The winter holidays can also be a particularly rough time for people with depression, since the cultural cheer and celebration can make them feel left out.
Surprisingly, however, suicides do not peak in the winter. They peak in the spring.
Numerous studies have found that suicides are more common in May and less common in February. In the Southern Hemisphere, suicides peak during their springtime months: September and October. Some clinicians — for example, Professor Chris Thompson of the Priory Group, a mental health care provider in the United Kingdom — have theorized that people with depression feel more energy in the spring and develop the necessary motivation to end their own lives.
Other researchers — for instance Petridou and colleagues in their 2002 study “A role of sunshine in the triggering of suicide” — suspect that sunshine’s influence on hormones is to blame.
MYTH: When people really want to commit suicide, they keep it a secret
Another common myth is that people who truly want to commit suicide will not tell anybody about their plans. After all, if no one knows, then no one can stop them. The implicit accusation in this myth, however, is that people who tell others that they are suicidal will never harm themselves. They aren’t in any danger – they’re only “fishing for attention” or “making a cry for help.”
It’s true that most people who express suicidal thoughts are looking for help – medical help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 90 percent of people who die by suicide experience mental illness. Often, this illness is undiagnosed or untreated. Most people who harm themselves do not want to die, but rather want to eliminate the pain associated with their illness. This is why they tell other people about their plans.
MYTH: Suicide is selfish
Dying by suicide is no more selfish than dying by cancer. As mentioned previously, an overwhelming majority of individuals who commit suicide are plagued by mental illness. For these people, suicide is not a logical choice, but rather the end result of a dangerous disease that is literally changing the composition of their brain. People who kill themselves also often incorrectly believe that their death will benefit – rather than harm – their loved ones.
MYTH: Mentioning suicide may inspire a depressed person to make an attempt
If you are concerned that a person close to you may be considering suicide, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Many people erroneously believe that suicide is an idea that can be planted in a person’s head, even if that person was not originally thinking about it. People who are in danger of suicide have likely already thought about it as an option. People who are not suicidal, meanwhile, will not be persuaded by a conversation with a concerned loved one.
MYTH: People who are in a good mood don’t commit suicide
One of the most dangerous warning signs of an impending suicide is a sudden mood shift. People who are depressed but suddenly seem happy may be in the process of planning a suicide. Often, when people are considering suicide, they feel relieved that their mental suffering will soon come to an end.
Sovereign Mental Health Services treats a wide range of mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Patients receive individualized treatment plans that are tailored to their unique needs. Sovereign’s compassionate and non-judgmental team will help you survive even your darkest hour. For further questions, please contact 866-954-0529.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group writer