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Suicide attempts and/or completed suicides get reported in the newspaper on daily basis. And yet, many people still believe that talking about suicide should be avoided as it might put thoughts in someone’s head or make someone more suicidal to the point that it increases the likelihood of an actual attempt. Suicide has been a taboo for many decades and even though in the last years it is less brushed under rug, more visible and researched, there are still myths that persist to exist. Needleless to say, it is not an easy topic to discuss but it is definitely an inevitable necessity, especially as it can save someone’s life.

Motives behind the avoidance of asking about the presence of suicidal ideations may vary. Discussing suicidal behavior may raise emotional discomfort and uncertainty about what to say or do after the disclosure. The fear that not knowing how to respond might lead to an inept, inadequate and even harmful response may cause someone to avoid the topic all togather. The idea that talking about suicide may increase the risk of actually committing suicide becomes even stronger when you think that if you will say something ‘wrong’ it could enhance the level of suicidality. According to Chambers et al. (2005) the reluctance to talk about suicidal behavior may also originate from the worry that suicide may become a normalized behavior. In short, it implies that if people will get repeatedly exposed to suicide and the idea of it, it may lead to a diminished emotional responsiveness to suicide as a negative and abnormal behavior.  

Current literature, however, refutes these beliefs. By encouraging someone to talk openly about his/her suicidal ideations, it actually offers relief as it is not longer a burdening secret that makes the individual feel deviant and isolated (Meerwijk et al., 2010). The individual may also feel that s/he is being heard, understood, cared for, helped and accepted. Talking about suicide ideations is a form of support that many yearn for, which in itself may help reduce the ideations a little as it may provide a glimpse of hope and reduce the loneliness felt. Additionally, Smith, Poindexter and Cukrowicz (2010) assert that being exposed to suicide questions and graphic images of suicide do not increase distress, suicidal ideations, suicidal behaviors and non-suicidal self-harm behaviors among depressed individuals who report these symptoms. Half of the respondents in this research also had a history of at least one prior suicide attempt.  In fact, results show a beneficial outcome as the exposure reduced the level of reported depression and a decrease in suicidal ideations among the respondents after the suicide assessment was made. The number of literature that proves that discussing suicide has benefits in particular decreased levels of suicidal ideations among high risk cases is growing (Mathias et al., 2012).

Individuals who have suicide ideations often wrestle with inner conflicts such as guilt, shame, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness and self-hate. Suicide ideations rise when the emotional pain is intolerable, excruciating and it seems as eternal. When no other option is perceived as available and possible, death becomes an attractive escape and a solution. Inability to expose and share the presence of the suicidal ideations might possibly intensify and confirm the despair, loneliness, hopelessness and helplessness, which one feels. The ability to talk about suicide and an empathetic contact helps break the isolation and helplessness felt. Talking openly about suicide and getting the individual into appropriate treatment facilities will help save that individual’s life. The individual will slowly realize that alternative solutions do exist, improvement is reachable and that s/he will not face it alone. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal (Schwartz & Rogers, 2004). If a suicide attempt does take place, it is because suicide was the final decision and a strong wish of a helplessly tormented individual. Asking questions helps assessing the level of risk. Without it no effective action can timely take place.

In conclusion, ignoring the issue does not make it go away; neither does it make it diminish in intensity, quite the opposite in fact.  On a larger-scale, breaking the walls of silence around suicide is also beneficial as it can increase public awareness and education, thus facilitate suicide prevention, increase suicide research and ultimately also improve available diagnosis methods and treatment.

Chambers, D.A., Pearson, J.L., Lubell, K., Brandon, S., O’Brien, K., & Zinn, J.(2005). The suicide of public messages for suicide prevention: a workshop summary. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour, 35, 2, 134-145.  

Mathias, C.W., Furr, R.M., Sheftall, A.H., Hill-Kapturczak, N., Crum, P., & Dougherty, D.M. (2012). What’s the harm in asking about suicidal ideation? Suicide and LifeThreatening Behavior, 42, 1-11.

Meerwijk, E. L., van Meijerl, B., van den Bout, J., Kerkhof, A., de Vogel, W., & Grypdonck, M. (2010). Development and evaluation of a guideline for nursing care of suicidal patients with Schizophrenia. Perspectives in psychiatric care, 46, 1, 65-73.

Schwartz, R. C., & Rogers, J. R. (2004). Suicide assessment and evaluation strategies: A primer for counseling psychologists. Counseling Psychology Quarterly, 17, 89-97.

Smith, P., Poindexter, E., & Cukrowicz, K. (2010). The effect of participating in suicide research: Does participating in a research protocol on suicide and psychiatric symptoms increase suicide ideation and attempts? Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 40, 535-543.