Image for Exposing Some Common Myths about Suicide

Exposing Some Common Myths about Suicide

Photo of Gary ZustiakGary Zustiak | Bio

Gary Zustiak

Dr. Zus” is Director of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO. He has an MA and MDiv from Lincoln Christian University and a Doctor of Ministry from Abilene Christian University. A longtime expert on youth ministry and mental health, he has written a number of related works, including the books Intensive Care: A Manual for the Nonprofessional Who Work with Hurting and Broken Youth and Student Ministry That Leaves a Mark: Changing Youth to Change the World.

It is important to dispel some common myths about suicide. These myths have accumulated through the years and actually hinder people from becoming involved in the life of a person who is at risk.

Myth #1: People who talk about suicide don’t commit suicide.

Research in the St. Louis area found that 69% of those who completed a suicide communicated their intent to kill themselves an average of three times; the maximum number of communications by one individual was twelve. Sixty percent communicated their intentions to their spouses, 50% communicated to relatives, including in-laws, 33% communicated to friends, and less than 20% communicated to physicians, job associates, ministers, police and landlords.[1]

Sometimes the warnings are indirect. Suicidal people will drop hints like: “I’m going away” or “You won’t have to worry about me anymore.”

Myth #2: Suicides usually happen without warning.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is just a matter of knowing what to look for. There are usually behavioral, emotional, and verbal clues that a young person is at risk. The youth minister must learn what to look for in order to recognize the signs.

Myth #3: Suicidal people can’t be talked out of it if they are really intent on dying.

Most people who are suicidal are ambivalent about it. They don’t really want to die, but they want the pain to stop and so they think death is the only way to bring relief. Most teens would rather live if you could help them find a solution to the emotional, psychological, or physical pain that is causing the suicidal ideation.

Myth #4: An individual’s drastic improvement following a serious crisis means the suicidal risk is over.

Just the opposite is true! Drastic improvement after a long period of depression or crisis usually means that the person has developed a suicidal plan and is simply counting down the days until it is enacted. The reason this brings about such drastic relief is that the person believes they only have to “put up with life” for a few more days and then there will be relief.

Myth #5: Suicide is a problem of a specific class of people.

Suicide is found in every demographic area: young, old, rich, poor, black, white, male, female, married, single, educated and uneducated. There is no demographic group that is immune to the dangers of suicide.

Myth #6: Talking about suicide causes suicide by planting the idea in a person’s head.

One of the most important things a pastor can do for someone who is suicidal is to ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. Talking openly is quite possibly the most caring thing you can do. Talking about it may generate helpful alternatives for the person who is suicidal and relieve some of the emotional and psychological pressure that has built up.

Myth #7: If a person is a Christian, he will not commit suicide.

Christians can become depressed just like anyone else. Some very famous and influential ministers struggled with depression. C.H. Spurgeon and Martin Luther both wrote about their battles with the darkness. Francis Schaeffer struggled with suicidal thoughts.

Myth #8: People who kill themselves are just being selfish.

Suicide might look like a selfish rejection but one must take into consideration the hopelessness and depression that the deceased experienced. Albert Hsu writes, “Suicide feels like a total dismissal, the cruelest possible way a person could tell us that they are leaving us behind.”[2] But he also notes that what is helpful is to realize that the suicidal person doesn’t kill himself to abandon anyone. He does it to end his pain, not to cause pain for others. The best gift you can give someone suicidal is to start that conversation for them.

[1] Karen Mason, Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors . (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), p. 52.

[2] Albert Y. Hsu, Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers and Hope

(Excerpted from Gary Zustiak, Intensive Care: A Manual for Nonprofessionals Who Work with Hurting and Broken Youth. Used with permission.)