Myths and facts

Some of the commonly held misconceptions about suicide or self-harm may prevent you from recognising when someone is actually at risk. Many people think that these actions are about attention seeking or being manipulative.

On the contrary, when people talk about harming themself, they’re mostly saying “I’m not coping right now”, “I need some help” – they may harm themselves because they want to stop the unbearable pain they’re experiencing or they may want to release pain somehow, by injuring themselves.

Discussions about suicide and self-harm should be taken seriously so that you can understand their distress and suffering and understand what is happening to the person you care for and can support him or her by getting the appropriate help and support.

Myth: Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal.

Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previous suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life.

Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement.

Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide.

Myth: Only people with mental health conditions are suicidal.

Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily a mental health condition. Many people living with mental health conditions are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health condition.

Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning.

The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of course there are some suicides that occur without any obvious warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.

Myth: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.

On the contrary, suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Someone may act impulsively by drinking alcohol and taking pills, for instance, and die a few days later, even though they would have liked to live on. When people are suicidal, they are often not thinking straight, and need help to have a bigger perspective on things. Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide.

Myth: People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it.

People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support. A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing anxiety, depression and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option.
The content in this section was sourced from the World Health Organization's Preventing suicide: a global imperative, myths.

Crisis support

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other services include: