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Suicide Part II - Challenging the Myths
Posted by PurpleMoonbeam
26th Oct 2012

When I was a young soldier, I found a friend who had hung herself during the night. I screamed for help, and the subsequent helpers sought even more help; but there was nothing we could do to save her, she had been gone too long.

I learned that day of the unsympathetic myths that surround suicide. Everyone seemed to forget that the day before she had been a friend and comrade. Scandalous gossip spread quickly throughout the base. We were subsequently warned not to speak of her death, and forbidden to ever mention her name again. I was very angry at this outrageous attitude towards such a tragic loss of life. 26 years later, am still angry; so I want to do something to challenge these harmful myths. Let’s start by identifying exactly what a myth is. The dictionary defines a myth as:

• a traditional story, such example might be from early history
• a widely held, but false belief or idea
• an exaggerated or idealised conception of a person or thing

OK, I get it now – it’s a story that everyone believes, but it is not true, and it has been exaggerated. The worst myths I can remember that started circulating about my friend were:

1. She was too weak to ‘hack it’.
2. She was being extremely selfish and not thinking of others or the Army’s reputation.
3. She couldn’t ‘man up’, so she took ‘the easy way out’.

Myth 1: Some people often mistake suicide attempts or completions, as the actions of a weak person.

In reality it takes a great deal of courage and inner strength to overcome the inbuilt survival instinct and self-preservation programming, which we all have tucked away in our reptilian brain.

Myth 2: Some people often think of the person attempting or completing suicide as selfish; they wrongly *assume* that there is a choice involved and that they chose to take their life without any thought for the bereaved.

Sadly, this is simply not true. Being suicidal doesn’t involve a choice; in reality a person in the midst of a suicidal crisis is in real distress and their cognitive function is greatly reduced. They may be flooded with very negative thoughts and the pain they feel is so intense. Suicide may feel like the only way to stop that pain. In some instances, they do not wish to actually die; they just want the pain to stop. In some cases, they see their death as a positive thing; it will rid the world of them and stop them being a burden to others – remember though, cognitive function is extremely faulty at this point.

Myth 3: Some people think that suicide is an easy way out for the person when life gets tough, or they encounter tough challenges. Again, this stems back to the false belief of choice: ‘Life was too hard so she chickened out’. ‘She was too weak to face up to her problems – the rest of us manage; so should she’.

Believe me, there is nothing easy about suicide. It takes immense strength to stare death in the face and voluntarily bring on something that society in general shies away from. It is natural to be squeamish at the thought of death; to hope it never happens, and to dread the day it does. Suicide was not a way for them to cop out, nor was it as the result of weakness.

The final myth that I want to challenge today, is one that is kept alive by people with strong religious conviction. There is a false belief still lurking in society that ‘suicide is a sin’. In truth, yes it used to be considered as such by the Church. Back in the 13th Century, suicide became vilified as an act against God and a sin that could not be repented.

Attitude remained this way in Britain until the Suicide Act was introduced in 1961. The Act subsequently removed the penalties that had been in place for all those centuries. The Act failed however, to stop people spouting myths about suicide. Many religious people today, unwittingly or otherwise, who still insist that suicide is a sin, are keeping a story alive because of their false beliefs. This causes so much unnecessary suffering for the people who survive a suicide attempt and for those who are bereaved by suicide.

There are many more myths surrounding suicide; too many to discuss in this blog. However, the Samaritans have compiled an excellent article about myths and facts which can be found here: http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/myths-about-suicide

There is no doubt that I will have trodden on some peoples’ toes in the writing of this blog. But, please consider it as educational, as much as tough love. This is the 21st Century and we understand so much more than our predecessors did about mental health, how the mind works and breaks, as well as what damages our cognitive function. There is no excuse for keeping age-old myths alive today, and if we all speak up and challenge these myths when we hear them, perhaps we can stamp them out for once and for all. Remember - myths are stories, fuelled by false beliefs and are often exaggerated.

In part three of this series, I will attempt to challenge the stigma and taboo associated with suicide.

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