Myths Are a Hurdle to Suicide Prevention

The Florida Times Union, November 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Myths Are a Hurdle to Suicide Prevention


This much we know about suicide: People don't like to talk about it.

And what we don't know about suicide - our misunderstandings - probably leads to more unnecessary deaths.

One of the most knowledgeable people on the subject is Thomas Joiner, a Florida State University professor whose father died by suicide. His personal reasons to investigate suicide merged with important societal goals.

Joiner's book "Why People Die By Suicide" was reviewed in these pages several years ago.

A more recent book, "Myths About Suicide," attempts to answer some of the common fallacies.

Joiner believes he has identified the three factors in nearly all suicides:

Learned fearlessness: This is the ability to take a violent or lethal attack on oneself. That means most people need to build up to it. But people who are around death, like the military or physicians, may speed up this factor.

Feeling a burden: The world would be a better place in the mind of the suicidal individual.

Alienation: A lonely feeling grows to the point that there is nothing to stop the individual from continuing on a suicidal path.

A study in Norway found that women with children were less likely to be suicidal - they had something to live for. Loneliness doesn't really describe the disconnect in the mind of a suicidal person.

IT'S NOT SELFISH

People tend to think that a person who dies by suicide is feeling only of himself. That's not the case, as misguided as it really is. Highly selfish people aren't likely to kill themselves.

It's not easy to do. There are about 20 attempts for every fatal conclusion of a suicide. Researchers have been able to talk to those who attempted but not completed the suicidal act to get a sense of their state of mind.

As Joiner writes, "Death by suicide requires staring the product of millions of years of evolution in the face and not blinking; it is tragic, fearsome, agonizing and awful, but it is not easy."

Only 3 percent have survived jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge, yet virtually everyone who was interviewed recalls feeling profound regret in the four seconds it takes to reach the water. If only there were a therapeutic way to shock people near suicide into that reality.

In fact, the vast majority of people who are prevented from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge go on to lead productive lives, Joiner writes.

That means suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death. Joiner thus writes that it was an outrage that barriers were not erected earlier on that bridge.

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