WellCat Counseling Center

Talking About Suicide

Myths and facts about suicide and mental illness

Misconceptions about suicide and mental illness reinforce the stigma associated with these topics. Here are some myths and facts to consider.

Myth: Talking about suicide will encourage the behavior.
Fact: There is no evidence that talking about suicide will encourage people to consider killing themselves. In fact, when we give people permission to talk about suicide and mental illness, they are more likely to open up, feel connected, and find hope for the future.

Myth: Thoughts of suicide are uncommon, so most people don’t need to talk about it.
Fact: About 1 in 20 of us have at least fleeting thoughts of dying at any given time. It’s part of the human experience, and talking about these thoughts can help validate and normalize our feelings of fear and being overwhelmed.

Myth: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.
Fact: Most people who are thinking about suicide have mixed feelings about dying. Opening this difficult conversation can help people weigh their reasons for dying against their reasons for living.

Myth: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
Fact: If a person tells you they are thinking about suicide, take them seriously. This person may have tried to express their pain in other ways that weren’t heard.

Myth: Therapy is the only effective intervention for someone who is suicidal.
Fact: Many relationships can help someone heal, and most therapists encourage people to identify friends, family members, teachers, and even pets who give them emotional support.

Myth: If a suicidal person’s mood improves, the risk of suicide is gone.
Fact:  A person might experience an improvement in their mood once they’ve made a firm decision to die by suicide. It’s important to keep the conversation open.

Myth: Every death by suicide is preventable.
Fact: No matter how well-intentioned or conscientious we might be, we cannot prevent every death by suicide.

How to start a difficult conversation after a suicide

Adapted from After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools

Give people a choice to talk… or to leave the conversation.

  • “I’m wondering if people want to talk about what happened. If not, you are welcome to leave class without a penalty.”
  • “This discussion is important. Sounds like some of us need to talk about this. If you’d rather not, that’s okay, too.”

Avoid speculating about why the death occurred, and address feelings of responsibility.

  • “We may never understand why this happened.”
  • “We can’t always predict someone’s behavior.”

Normalize all feelings.

  • “Grief is complicated and not linear. It’s normal to have many conflicting feelings, even in one day.”

Address anger.

  • “It makes sense that you’re angry about all of this. So am I.”
  • “It’s normal to feel angry and sad at the same time. Grief is complex that way.”

Offer time/space to continue the conversation in a more private setting.

  • “I can sense that this conversation isn’t finished. Can we continue this conversation [somewhere neutral] after class?”
  • “I know these conversations can bring up a lot of emotions for some of you. If you need some support, I’ll be in my office from [state a specific time you’re available].”