Culture of Caring

Suicide Myths vs Facts

Top 10 Suicide Myths Revealed

For too long, people’s beliefs about suicide have been distorted by commonly repeated myths. The “because everybody says it, it must be true” syndrome has distorted the truth. It’s time to move on and admit that our perception of another person’s reality may not be correct. We cannot truly judge how another person feels. We must not compare their reactions to circumstances to ours in a similar situation, but rather listen and accept their feelings. Then take appropriate action.

10. They don’t really mean it

A common reaction to people who talk about suicide is that they aren’t serious and won’t go through with it. The fact is that people who kill themselves have often told someone that they do not feel life is worth living or that they have no future. They have said out loud that they wanted to die.

While it’s possible that talking about suicide is a way of getting attention, it’s also a cry for help. Research tells us that the majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die - they just can’t bear to live the life they have.

9. Most suicides happen when it’s cold and dark

There is a long-held belief that suicides almost always happen in the winter. While the season may be a factor, a death by suicide usually happens because of multiple factors that become too overwhelming.

Do your own research to find data that shows fluctuations in suicide rates by month. Most do not happen because it is winter.

8. You can’t stop them

Many people believe that if a person is serious about killing themselves, then there’s nothing you can do. In fact, suicidal ideation is often temporary and may come and go. Sometimes even when they have been struggling to cope for a long time.

A person suffering from severe mental health disorders may feel hopeless. That’s why getting the right kind of support at the right time is critical. It is rarely easy and requires persistent effort, but it can be the difference between life and death.

7. Suicide is always caused by mental illness

If you think about it, you will realize that it doesn’t make sense that someone must be mentally ill to think about suicide. Actually, the data says that 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide even though they never considered how or when it could happen.  While many people suffer from mental health conditions, it is often undiagnosed and untreated, making it difficult to determine if they might be at risk.

Experts used to say that 90% of people who died by suicide had a mental illness, but that number has dropped significantly as more accurate data has become available.

6. Talking about suicide will make them do it

Many people in leadership positions strongly believe that if you talk about suicide, someone will act on it so they refuse to even consider prevention training for staff. It is often such a taboo subject in schools and workplaces that it is simply never mentioned.

The fact is that once someone starts talking, they’ve got a better chance of discovering other options to suicide. It is true that people who are contemplating suicide feel others may worry or see them as a burden if they share their feelings, so they will not mention it. But mental health professionals have learned that asking someone directly about suicide gives others permission to talk about how they feel. They often find it is a relief to be able to talk about what they’re experiencing out loud. Knowing that somebody cares about them and believes they are in pain can save a life.

5. Taking one’s own life is cowardly and impulsive

Have you ever heard someone say that a person who died by suicide was a coward who couldn’t face their own problems?

While the act itself can happen on impulse, it is far more likely that it is the result of a long illness that is seemingly incurable, and the only way to end the pain is to die.

4. They just want attention

Sometimes teachers or counselors might refer to a student as a “frequent flyer” because they complain about wanting to die so often.  Even though they may seem to be seeking constant attention, it is more likely to be a call for help.

Because it’s often difficult for someone with a mental health disorder to articulate the root of a problem, especially for children, it’s  important for caring adults to listen, provide support, and get professional help.

3. We had no clue

Most suicide deaths are shocking and unexpected. While that is very true, there were warning signs. Loved ones often look back and realize they did have clues – usually behavioral changes.

That’s why everyone should learn the warning signs and risk factors so they can identify suicidal behavior before it’s too late.

2. Successful, happy people never die by suicide

It is always a surprise when someone who seems happy, well-respected, athletic, popular, and seemingly successful dies by suicide. The truth is the warning signs were there, but they might have been more successful at concealing them.

1. They’ll call if they need help

We might feel like we are doing a good deed if we notice a friend is struggling and give them a helpful phone number to call. But if they don’t follow through and make the call, then you really haven’t helped. It is vital that when you notice someone is seriously struggling, you take action to get the help they need. You call the hotline and ask for advice or get a loved one or family member to take them to get medical care.

Never just leave them alone and hope it works out okay. 


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.


The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Learn the facts.

Learn about suicide, including risk factors and warning signs, statistics and treatment, and how to report about it responsibly.  

A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.

Theodora Schiro