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Myths About Suicide: Ending Mental Health Stigma

Feb 20, 2024

This is part three of a three-part series on myths surrounding suicide. 

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness creates shame, distress, and reluctance to get help. 

A 2021 study looked at public perceptions of mental health conditions in the United States over the span of 22 years. The study found that people are increasingly accepting of people with depression, but we still have much work to do to end stigma around all mental health conditions. 

Myth: “Teens who try to kill themselves must be crazy.” 

Words like, “crazy” (or “nuts,” “mental,” or “psycho”) are used as insults all too often in daily conversations, which makes this myth hugely problematic

  • Labeling someone “crazy” fosters shame and fear and can lead someone to avoid seeking support for very real health issues.
  • Nearly half of the people (around 46%) who took their own lives were suffering with an underlying mental illness – most commonly depression – or a substance abuse problem at the time of their deaths.
  • The other 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Relationship problems, criminal/legal matters, death of a loved one, and recent or impending crises are all associated with suicide attempts.
  • It is important to note that millions of people who live with depression never attempt suicide. It is when people with depression start feeling hopeless and helpless, and their pain exceeds their resources for coping with pain, that suicide is most likely to occur.
  • A small percentage of suicidal people are suffering from psychosis, or delusional beliefs about reality. This does not make those individuals “crazy.” They have a severe underlying health issue that requires psychiatric help.

Myth: “Teens who are suicidal don’t ask for help because they don’t want it.”

This is untrue in most cases. Teens will reach out to school peers or trusted adults who show they are willing to listen. They are also more likely to “ask” for help through non-verbal communication. It is extremely difficult to talk about suicidal feelings. Trusted adults need to invite this conversation with understanding and compassion, then help teens get proper supports and treatment. 

Teens who are suicidal may not know where to start or don’t think anything will help – part of depression is also a “tunnel vision” that can get so bad that everything seems hopeless, even the prospect of getting help.

Teens may also be afraid that if they try to get help, they won’t be taken seriously, or they will be told they are “crazy,” sinful, manipulative, or stupid. They may be worried that they’ll be rejected by their friends or punished by adults in their lives. 

A stigma-free world, where everyone with mental illness feels supported to reach out for the help they deserve, is possible. Six ways to help are:

  1. Stop using harmful labels, like “crazy.” If you need to talk about someone, talk about a person’s behaviors instead of labeling them. On Our Sleeves has more information about dos and don’ts when talking about mental health.
  2. Learn and share accurate information about mental illness.
  3. Speak up and correct your friends and family when they spread negative stereotypes and myths about mental health and suicide.
  4. Offer nonjudgmental support to teens in your life when they show warning signs that they are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.
  5. Even when things are going well, talk with your kids about their feelings and how they’re coping with the stresses of life. Ask directly about suicidal thoughts. This sets the tone that it’s okay to talk about tough times and emotional challenges.
  6. Talk openly and sensitively about mental illness, even your own. It may inspire others to do the same and shatter the idea that mental illness should be concealed.

If someone is depressed, it takes tremendous strength to talk about it and get help. Increasing acceptance and showing encouragement to those who take this step can go a long way. Timely treatment is crucial if you or a loved one is depressed and/or contemplating suicide. Effective help is available.

If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 (services available in English and Spanish). If there is an immediate safety concern, call 911 or go the nearest emergency room. 

Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital
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Featured Expert

NCH Blog Author
Elizabeth A. Cannon, LPCC-S
Behavioral Health

Elizabeth Cannon, LPCC-S, is a clinical mental health counselor and research coordinator with years of experience working with children and families in the hospital, school and community setting. Her interests include mindfulness, equity and trauma-informed care.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.