The truth behind the most common and dangerous assumptions about suicide and suicide attempts, and what you can do to make a difference.
This video is part of a series, also available on DVD from the Mental Health Foundation shop
This video discusses the subject of suicide in some depth. If you think you may be distressed by this material, please have someone with you as a support while you watch this video.
If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, here are some support numbers you can call:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Tautoko: 0508 82 88 65
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
JUDY BAILEY: Suicide is a topic that carries a lot of emotion. It scares many of us into silence, and when we do talk about it, we often get things wrong.
There are certain myths about suicide that prevent people in danger from either seeking, or getting the help they need. How many of the following myths have you heard?
MYTH 1: People who attempt suicide are just attention-seeking.
MERRYN STATHAM - FORMER DIRECTOR, SUICIDE PREVENTION INFORMATION NEW ZEALAND: If somebody is using the extremity of a suicide attempt to seek attention, it's a very clear sign that they need some highly specialised attention, and some help with solving the problems that they're experiencing and unable to solve in any other way.
MYTH 2: A suicidal person clearly wants to die.
MERRYN STATHAM: People who struggle with suicidal thoughts, there is often a debate going on in their head. They're not actually thinking about being dead, but they're thinking about bringing an end to an incredible level of pain and distress.
MYTH 3: You should keep someone's suicidal thoughts or plans a secret if they ask you to.
MERRYN STATHAM: If somebody talks to you about suicide, or they're planning to take their own life, you don't keep that secret. What we encourage people to think about is that it's actually better to have an angry friend who's alive, than a dead friend.
Going to tell somebody who can do something about it, and link you in with the support that you need, is really important. And you keep going until you find the right person.
MYTH 4: Suicidal feelings never go away.
MERRYN STATHAM: For people who might be experiencing very strong suicidal thoughts for the first time, it can be absolutely terrifying. These things will pass.
Having the right support at your fingertips and asking for help, and the person who's being asked being able to respond appropriately is critical.
MYTH 5: You shouldn't talk about suicide with a suicidal person, it increases their risk.
MERRYN STATHAM: For the person who's been struggling with those kinds of thoughts, the opportunity to talk to somebody about that, who's going to listen to them non-judgmentally and help them, is a relief.
If you're asking somebody about that, it does show that you care; and often that person might have been waiting and waiting for the opportunity to talk to someone about it.
MYTH 6: There's never any warning for suicide; they never ask for help.
MERRYN STATHAM: Many people go to their doctors. Whilst they might not actually talk about suicide, they talk about a lot of other issues that are going on that could point to being very distressed and not coping.
People who are thinking about suicide sometimes mask it very carefully. They try to hide that. In a very confused state in their head, that tells them that they're doing the best thing for other people.
People could use behaviours to communicate the fact that they're not coping and that they're really distressed.
MYTH 7: There's a typical kind of person who attempts suicide.
MERRYN STATHAM: Whilst there are certain population groups that we know experience higher risk, there's no typical person that you can point to and say 'that's a suicidal person'.
People who have a very chronic and serious mental illness are at increased risk of suicide, but we do know that the role of depression is the biggest risk factor, and depression can remain quite hidden.
MYTH 8: Suicide happens all the time.
MERRYN STATHAM: Thoughts about suicide are quite common, but completed suicide is still statistically quite rare.
Elderly people, over 80, have an increased risk of suicide. Middle-aged men are at increased risk of suicide, and we know that young Māori males are at increased risk of suicide.
MATUA RAWIRI WHAREMATE - MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION OF NEW ZEALAND: Back in our tūpuna time, when a great chief died, and I'm thinking about this particular chief in the North, two of his wives committed suicide. They saw it as accompanying this great chief to the other side of the veil so he wasn't lonely on his own. Haere ki tua o te arai – farewell, go to the other side of the veil.
But these days, though, one needs to understand what it is to preserve life; that it's a sacred situation. We want to be able to fulfil our potential and to provide stability, you know, because age, for Māori, also means being able to look back – ngā taonga tuku iho - which means to hand back down the treasures of our family to our grandchildren, to our children, so that when we pass on, they hold all those gifts that I knew about that they can provide to the rest of their families.
MYTH 9: Once someone has attempted suicide, the idea is out of their system.
MERRYN STATHAM: Somebody who's attempted suicide is actually at increased risk of going on to complete suicide. If somebody has made a suicide attempt, then it's really important to provide them with the assistance and the help that they need, so that they can cope the next time a crisis comes up.
MYTH 10: The sudden improvement after a suicidal crisis means the risk is over.
MERRYN STATHAM: If somebody has been talking about suicide a lot, and is very intent on taking their own life and then they're suddenly very happy, that's a warning sign that we ask people to take a lot of notice of.
For example, if somebody has just gone onto a course of antidepressants, there is a period of time where they may feel considerably better and have the energy, and the planning ability to go through with a suicide attempt.
MYTH 11: There should be more public awareness suicide campaigns.
MERRYN STATHAM: The idea that we should have big public campaigns about suicide and suicide prevention comes up a lot.
If we're talking about suicide in a big group of people, for example a school assembly, the person who is speaking about suicide has no way of knowing the level of risk that is present in that group.
The best way that we think people should talk about suicide is at a one-to-one level where one person can help the other person, or take them to help.
MYTH 12: Only trained professionals can prevent suicide.
MERRYN STATHAM: We all have a role to play in suicide prevention. All of us are in a position to notice behaviour changes, or somebody who's struggling, or reach out to somebody who may be experiencing difficulties. And those are primary opportunities to prevent suicide.
JUDY BAILEY: If you'd like more information about suicide prevention, visit SPINZ online at www.spinz.org.nz