The Shame of Suicide

By Leslie Scott, MSSA, LSW, CTP-C, Professional Development Coordinator

One thing I have learned from years as a social worker is that suicide is shameful. People surrounded by those who have died by suicide, almost died by suicide, or contemplated suicide feel a sense of shame. This shame stems from misnomers and stigma. Society also perpetuates the belief that suicide is a choice, rather than a symptom of a mental health disorder.

In fact, suicide is an impulse. Making an individual’s ability to delay, distract, and deescalate critical to saving a life. Why? Impulses go away, fade, and change. When the person experiences this impulse, it is the only thing they are thinking about. They are not thinking about their loved ones, consequences, other choices, or the pain.

Fighting the shame of suicide also starts with understanding what happens to an individual before their death. Knowing someone’s history doesn’t just provide critical risk factors, it allows us to grow, show empathy, and encourage those still alive with similar histories to seek help. Below is a list of life events that can increase a person’s risk of suicide. Some are everyday events, which can lead to thoughts of death, while others are traumatic events that impact a person’s mental health long-term. With both these types of events, it’s important to remember, the person who dies by suicide may not have experienced this event but could have witnessed this event and still suffered the same impact.

Everyday events Less common events
Break-Ups

Loss of a job

Being arrested

Using alcohol or drugs

Changing schools

Feeling unsupported

Seeing violence

Seeing someone die by suicide

Being abused

Not being cared for as a child

Having health issues that don’t get better

Mass shootings

Community Violence

Intimate Partner Violence

(Kahn, 2019; Stone, Bou-Saada, & Ceurvo, 2018)

Let us step into their shoes for a quick minute — imagine yourself as you are today. You are blank years-old, reading this blog post, then you get a text message. Déjà vu happens. Suddenly, you become a five year-old little being abused by his or her uncle or a five year-old, terrified child watching their mother get hit, or a five year-old feeling alone after your friend dies. Your younger self then thinks, life is hopeless, hurtful, and will never get better. It is not the you of today that acts on the impulse to harm yourself, but the younger you that was hurt.

A more common scenario might be — you are in a car accident and hit a deer. You are terrified and keep thinking, “I could have almost died.” Every time you get in the car, you think about that deer. You feel scared again. It gets better, time goes by and you think about it less. Then, a year later, you drive by that spot for the first time. A wave of panic hits you and you cannot breathe. You are sweating, shaking, and you cannot stop thinking about that deer. This is how our bodies react to trauma.

Some of us experience this and start to think about suicide. Maybe our brains tell us “you should have died that day,” “why did I survive,” “it is all my fault and I should be dead.” Take a second to focus on how you feel just reading these words. This feeling is a thousand times stronger when they are being said in your own head. This is what the impulse of suicide feels like.

Therefore, it is important to remember our histories are not like the histories in textbooks. We do not always experience them and move on, but rather we move on, always carrying those histories with us.

If you filled a book bag with books, each book representing an experience listed above that has happened to you (a breakup, being arrested, seeing violence), how heavy would your book bag be? Would you struggle to stand up? Would you fall backwards? Would your shoulders hurt? Or would it be light and easy to carry? Every person has their own book bag to carry and only you know how heavy it is.

We must support each other as we carry our own book bags. We must show each other healthy positivity to get through the tough moments. You do not need to sacrifice yourself or be everybody’s best friend — but random acts of kindness, politeness, friendship, and empathy can save someone’s life.

 

What is one small act of healthy positivity you can do today?

Text your friend that you love them and are glad they are in your life.

Hug your parents or your siblings.

Reach out for help.

Thank the restaurant employee who serves you.

Surprise the office with donuts.

Leave a random note of kindness for a stranger.

Donate your time or money to a non-profit.

Share this post on social media or via email and include your small step of healthy positivity you plan to show today.

 

If you are struggling with thoughts of death, suicide, or wanting to harm yourself, please reach out to one of these resources. And in case you haven’t heard it today — you are wanted in this world and things get better.

Lifeline # 1-800-273-8255 24/7/365

Lifeline Chat Online 24/7/365

Huckleberry House Crisis Line 614-294-5553

OSU Students can call 614-292-5766

Call or Text for Help 614-221-5445

Teen Suicide Hotline 614-294-3300

LGBTQ+ Youth Suicide Hotline @ The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386

The Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition 614-299-6600 ext. 2073

Go immediately to any emergency room or police station

For adults, they can call or walk into Netcare Access for help

 

Huckleberry House can also come talk to you about suicide and how to help teens or young adults struggling. If you would like a staff member to speak at your workplace, please reach out via profdev@huck-house.org or 614-294-8097.

If you’d like a staff member to come speak with teens or young adults about getting help, please contact us at 614-294-8097.

Stay up to date with information about professional development opportunities, by signing up for our newsletter.

 

Citations

Kahn, A. (2019, May 1). What You Should Know About Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/suicide-and-suicidal-behavior#risk-factors

Stone, D. M., Bou-Saada, I., & Cuervo, E. (2018, March 15). Suicide & Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Preventing Suicide through Collaborative Upstream Interventions. Retrieved from https://suicideprevention-icrc-s.org/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/events/18_3_15_aceswebinarslides.pdf