When it comes to suicidal thoughts and feelings, seeking help can be a life-saving step, but that doesn’t make it easier for those struggling. Often, the barrier stopping young people living with suicidal thoughts from reaching out is the stigma that surrounds suicide.
While efforts to address mental health and prevent suicide have made significant strides, the stigma surrounding suicide continues to cast a shadow over the lives of those affected by it. Stigma can add an additional layer of suffering to people already struggling with emotional pain, leading to feelings of shame, isolation, and rejection.
So, how can you break down the stigma surrounding suicide?
Stigma is a set of negative beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes that contribute to the marginalisation of certain people or groups within society. When it comes to suicide, the stigma is rooted in misconceptions and misinformation.
There are many myths about suicide that perpetuate the stigma. Common labels people apply to the person who has ended their life include ‘they are selfish’ or ’they took the easy way out’. People who have made an attempt on their life also face stigmatisation and are sometimes viewed as ‘attention-seekers’. These myths are not true and need to be dispelled to end the stigma.
How does stigma affect people experiencing thoughts of suicide?
Stigma can add a significant burden to anyone affected by suicide, leading to feelings of shame and a reluctance to seek help. Overcoming this stigma is vital for creating an environment where those affected by suicide can feel supported and understood.
Some of the ways suicide stigma can negatively impacts those struggling is:
- People will be reluctant to seek help when they need it.
- They might internalise the stigma and start to believe the myths and negative stereotypes.
- Cause shame or embarrassment.
- Cause those struggling to feel lonely or socially isolated.
- Negatively impact personal relationships with family, friends and colleagues due to misunderstandings and insensitive comments.
How can you break stigma?
Share education and awareness
One of the most effective ways to combat stigma is through education and raising awareness. Public education campaigns can provide accurate information about suicide risk factors, suicide prevention skills and available resources. By challenging myths and addressing misconceptions, you can encourage a more informed and empathetic society. These campaigns should emphasise that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that suicidal thoughts are a common human experience.
Promote open conversation
Creating an open dialogue about suicide encourages people to share their experiences without fear of judgement. Encouraging honest conversations among friends, family, colleagues can normalise discussions around suicide. When people feel comfortable talking about their struggles, they are more likely to seek help and support when needed.
Understand your language matters
The language you use when discussing suicide can have a significant impact on how it’s perceived. Using non-stigmatising language can help reduce shame and foster understanding. For instance, replacing phrases like “committed suicide” with “died by suicide” emphasises that suicide is a result of complex factors and not a criminal act. Choosing words that show empathy and respect for the person’s experience helps to break down the barriers created by stigma. Try to avoid the use of descriptors and phrases such as “don’t be silly”, or “don’t do anything stupid”, as this only further adds to the negative perception and shame for those living with suicidal thoughts.
Support bereaved families
Families who have lost a loved one to suicide often carry a heavy burden of stigma. Providing them with a supportive environment where they can grieve openly without judgement is crucial. Offering resources and support services specifically designed for bereaved families can help them navigate the complex emotions they face while challenging societal stigma.
Listen and ask the question
Most importantly, listen. Whether someone is sharing their personal story of feeling suicidal, expressing negative feelings but don’t mention suicide, or speaking about suicide or mental health more generally, they might be trying to scope out whether it is a safe space for them to open up. If you are worried about someone, act on those thoughts and concerns and try to move past any discomfort you may feel. Starting the conversation and providing support can make a huge difference.
If you’re worried about someone you know, call HOPELINE247 at 08000684141.
How can I overcome the stigma if I am struggling?
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and struggling with stigma, overcoming it may not be an easy task, but there are things you can do to help deal with it:
- Get the help you need: Don’t worry about what people might think. If you are struggling, speak to someone you know or you can call HOPELINE247 to speak with one of our trained advisers who will work with you to help keep you safe for now. Getting treatment and support can help and if you do not feel comfortable telling anyone that you are accessing help, then you don’t have to.
- Don’t let the stigma rule you: We know this might be easier said than done but try not to see your situation as a sign of weakness or that you should be able to ‘snap out of it’. Be mindful of any negative self-talk. You are not to blame for how you feel; there is no shame in asking for help. It might not seem it, but you can live a life where suicidal thoughts do not consume you.
- Avoid isolation: Try not to let worry, shame or guilt keep you from seeing your friends, family and others. People in your life can support you if they know you are struggling. Its important you continue to surround yourself with people who you love and value.
- Join an online support group: The internet, despite its flaws, can be an incredible place for helping people connect with others who understand them. There are many different support groups for people impacted by suicide, you might want to try a few until you find a community that works for you.