Mental Health Awareness Month Removing Stigma from Suicide

May 19 2010 - 11:21am
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As national mental health awareness month continues, those who have lost a loved one to suicide work hard towards removing the stigma from suicide. No one is quite sure why, but human beings are taught from childhood that suicidal people are not good people. There is something wrong with them and they are not only going to hurt themselves but they can hurt others.

None of this of course is true. Clearly not a single study can confirm or validate this at all, yet as a society, we tend to believe what is taught to us. This is how stigma is created.

May is mental health awareness month and part of the goal is to remove stigma, and this stigma is what surrounds most people when it comes time to suicide.

One of the most difficult elements found in suicide bereavement versus normal bereavement is the stigma experienced by survivors. People say the taking of ones life is a sin therefore there is a large stigma attached to suicide. In certain religions, those who take their own lives are not allowed to have a Christian burial. Families are often forced to lie so they can burry their dead.

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Stigma is one of the biggest barriers to healing a loss due to suicide. When you say suicide is preventable to someone who lost a loved one to suicide, it serves no purpose and actually causes problems. Many people who have lost a loved on to suicide have tried to get help for their loved one. In fact, many of their loved ones have either been in to see a counselor or were on medications.

One of the biggest phrases that creates stigma in our society that surrounds suicide is when people use the phrase “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” It is important to keep in mind that 90% of suicides is due to a mental health condition either diagnosed or not diagnosed.

Conditions such as bi-polar, alcoholism and many other mental health issues are not temporary problems and many people who have taken their own lives have been fighting a mental illness for many years. For many people who take their own lives, the problem was not temporary.

Another stigma is that people who suicide are selfish. The fact is, people who take their own lives are not selfish. They are unable to determine in that moment what selfishness is. They can only see the helplessness and hopelessness that is right in front of them.

As national mental health awareness month continues, it is important that people begin to educate themselves and start to recognize old sayings and are stereotypes and actually cause more harm than good.

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Comments

thanks for writing this article. My son, who died by suicide in December 2005 also had schizophrenia. Like some people who say their loved one died from heart disease or cancer, I prefer to say my son died from schizophrenia.
You made some excellent points in this article. However, labeling people as "mentally ill" is itself a form of stigmatization since there are no medical tests that can verify that psychological problems are an "illness" in any biological or physiological sense of the term. Modern psychiatry is a pseudoscience that is reduces all mental suffering to chemical imbalances and largely ignores other possible explanations for it. Perhaps we need to coin more accurate term for these difficult mental conditions and those who struggle with them.
My sister committed suicide in October 2010. We were very close; I miss her and I am able to discuss her passing as a suicide. My sister was not selfish. There is a long and broad history of mental illness in my family with numerous suicides. Four months after my sister passed, my companion of eleven years left me for a coworker 19 years younger than me. I have moved three times in one year and must be out of the room I am in by the end of the week due to foreclosure. I have a 38 year history of treatment for major depression and mental health issues. No substance abuse; did I leave any other "at risk" factors out? Coping 101: When I can't shake an angry feeling my thoughts turn to harming myself so I call the Suicide Hotline (I'm 55) crisis center and rehash my recent past. I've called several times in recent months. I am in and out of therapy, I read and humor keeps me going; as George Carlin put it, "I couldn't commit suicide if my life depended on it." (Not these days, I enjoy aging and beating the odds; I do wish my sister was here.)
My son, age 27, died three weeks ago this evening by suicide. I knew he was suffering but I thought we had found a "way out" with our help for him. He could not make it in this world. No matter how successful he was in the world, he felt himself to be a failure, a disappointment because he could not resolve his inner struggles, even with help. Before he died, he made sure that we knew how much he loved us and we did the same, not knowing we were nearing an end. In his note, he described that he "was not strong enough," again failing...and could no longer go on. I believe him. I still believe him. We spend a full week with his friends and our immediate family saying good bye with respect for his pain..because it takes a great deal of pain to override the life force within all of us. We are heart broken; this is fresh for us but when I think of what he suffered, I feel like his words were right. It will be hard for us, but we will make it. He could find no way out. I write this to say that I think there is pain, whatever label you want to apply to it, that is truly unbearable. He struggled for years. I wish him peace and that he knows our love for him.
Joan - thanks for posting your thoughtful words. You sound like you have incredible insight after just 3 short weeks. Sometimes I wonder if my son felt the same as your son. I know that where ever he is now, he isn't struggling like he was in this life and it gives me strength.