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  • Writer's pictureDiseph Igoni, LMFT

Suicide: The Social Stigma

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

49,449.


That is the estimated number of suicide deaths in 2022 per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest released provisional data, marking a 2.6% increase from 2021 (Suicide Data and Statistics 2023).


In 2021, the CDC reported an estimated 12.3 million adults thought about suicide, 3.5 million adults made a plan and 1.7 million adults actually attempted suicide. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and is a major public health concern (Suicide Data and Statistics 2023).


Many of us have been affected by suicide either directly or indirectly. Whether you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, has a plan, or has attempted, or committed suicide, the impact on those left behind is devastating and has far-reaching effects.


Yet, due to social stigma, suicide is often judged, shamed, or ignored generally out of fear and ignorance. This stigma stifles necessary dialogue which could help to increase awareness, educate, and potentially save lives.


13 REASONS WHY


There are a myriad of reasons why people commit suicide. Some reasons include:


  • Abuse

  • Addiction

  • Bereavement

  • Bullying

  • Chronic physical pain or illness

  • Discrimination

  • Economic hardships

  • Financial difficulties

  • Isolation

  • Loneliness

  • Major life transitions

  • Mental health issues

  • Substance abuse


It is important to note that although these are some reasons why people commit suicide, it is not necessarily a direct result of just having experienced any one of these reasons. Many of the reasons listed are manageable with appropriate treatment (i.e. therapy, medication, access to community resources, etc..) and support. However, all too often the result of feeling negative emotions such as anguish and despair are exacerbated by a lack of support systems and access to much-needed resources.


WARNING SIGNS


Suicidality is defined as the risk of suicide, usually indicated by suicidal ideation or intent,

especially evident in the presence of a well-elaborated suicidal plan (APA Dictionary of Psychology). Knowing the signs of suicidality is extremely important and can save lives.


There are several risk factors that increase the risk of suicidality such as a person’s history (previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide), health (mental health conditions, serious physical health conditions), and environment (stressful life events, transitions or painful losses, access to lethal means).


People struggling with suicidality may exhibit the following warning signs:


Behaviors:

  • Isolation from loved ones and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities

  • Making a will, saying goodbye, and giving away prized possessions

  • Increase in substance use

  • Making a plan or researching ways to commit suicide


Talks about:

  • Ending things or not wanting to be here

  • Not having a purpose or a reason to live

  • Feeling they are better off dead, a burden, or having feelings of hopelessness


Moods:

  • Irritability

  • Depression

  • Sudden improvement or relief

  • Anger

  • Extreme mood swings


WHAT CAN I DO?


Below are five things you can do to support someone struggling with suicidality:


  1. EDUCATE YOURSELF: If you are reading this article, you are well on your way! Knowledge is power. Educating ourselves about suicide is important, especially given the current statistics of suicide rates last year and the current state of mental health in the United States. Knowing some reasons why people commit suicide, the warning signs, and how you can be supportive can potentially save lives.

  2. START A DIALOGUE: If you notice someone has been struggling, talk about it. Ask how they are feeling and check in regularly. You can alternate your approach by sending an encouraging text message or by leaving a voicemail that does not require a response. A simple, “You’re in my thoughts today” or “I’m here if you need to talk” can help the person struggling to feel safe and comfortable talking to you. It also lets the person know they matter, are important, and are noticed.

  3. DO NOT JUDGE/SHAME: Part of the stigma surrounding suicide is judgment and shame. Allow those struggling to show up as they are in the moment. Allow them space to cry, be silent, or vent. There will be times we do not know the "right" thing to say or do, or even how to respond causing us to feel awkward and uncomfortable in those moments. That’s okay. Silence can be more meaningful than words at times. Sometimes our ability to show up, be present, and hold space for someone who is struggling is enough. It’s more than enough.

  4. NORMALIZE THE STRUGGLE: No matter how big or how minuscule, everyone struggles. Everyone. It’s okay to let someone who is struggling know that you have struggled with life too. Connection and relatability can be powerful. How many times have you felt alone during a life struggle, only to find out someone else has endured a similar struggle? I’ve been there. The relief you feel can shift your mindset and serve as a catalyst for seeking help.

  5. ENCOURAGE/HELP THEM TO REACH OUT: There are times when we do not feel well enough to reach out for help on our own. It is times like these, when we may need someone to help us, help ourselves. Providing a struggling person with resources is crucial. Whether it is providing the number to 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, helping them connect with a therapist via Psychology Today, or in more critical situations, driving them to the nearest emergency room where they can be evaluated and potentially treated, can be life-sustaining.


It is important to take the warning signs of suicidality seriously. Ignoring these signs only perpetuates the social stigma around suicide and mental health. Although talking about suicide can be uncomfortable, awkward, scary, and anxiety-provoking, it can potentially mean the difference between life and death for someone who is suicidal.


I am a licensed therapist providing therapy to individual adults and couples in California. I work with individuals who have a variety of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and trauma. I also work with individuals seeking personal growth and development, those dealing with life transitions and adjustments, as well as grief and loss. If you, a loved one or someone you know is currently struggling with their mental health, please reach out. I offer free 20-minute phone consultations to ensure we are a good fit. I can also provide referrals if necessary. You can peruse my website and connect with me at dialoguewithdiseph.com, via email at diseph@dialoguewithdiseph.com or via phone at (916) 304-2015.


For more educational articles, self-care tips and strategies, and information on upcoming workshops, groups and events, please consider subscribing to my monthly free newsletter. I look forward to connecting with you!


Additional Resources:


American Foundation for Suicidal Prevention


National Institute of Mental Health


Citations


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, August 10). Suicide Data and Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/suicide-data-statistics.html


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/suicidality




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