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Suicide Myths, Misrepresentations, and Fallacies

Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy

in Out of This World: Suicide Examined Antonia Murphy

Chapter Four: Myths, Misrepresentations, and Fallacies

Out of This World: Suicide Examined Antonia Murphy

Chapter Four: Myths, Misrepresentations, and Fallacies

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Suicide Myths Misrepresentations and Fallacies
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Chapter Four: Myths, Misrepresentations, and Fallacies

If we look at suicide historically, (Loc 913)

For the most part, suicide is either excused, appropriated, accounted for, or reviled within a number of prevailing orthodoxies (Loc 914)

religious, political, cultural, or territorial. (Loc 915)

rarely simply allowed to be the human, individual experience that it is. (Loc 916)

more often misunderstood, misrepresented, and treated with great suspicion within wider society. (Loc 916)

Many ideas about suicide contain part truths and part understandings. (Loc 919)

Reducing suicidality to a mental illness is one such example of a part truth - it can be partly helpful, partly miss the point, and partly unhelpful. (Loc 920)

there remain other fallacies and myths (Loc 921)

many of the statements (Loc 923)

are made in order to make us feel more distant from our own connection with suicidality, (Loc 923)

either by demarcating the suicidal as ill or disturbed, (Loc 925)

or as misguided, selfish, oppressed, misunderstood, or dangerous within a sociological, religious, cultural, criminal, or political framework. (Loc 926)

There is a really particular terror produced by suicide and a particular guilt - there but for the grace of God perhaps—because it is, actually, something we could all do and something which we can all feel drawn to (Loc 928)

Suicide smashes through any pretension we may have that life is easy (Loc 931)

In Europe within the Christian tradition suicide was denounced as a sin (Loc 932)

as late as 1961 an unsuccessful suicide could still be sentenced as having committed an unlawful act. (Loc 938)

Scriptural pronouncements on suicide in the writings of the major world religions - Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, are mostly admonishments against taking your own life and couched either in the sanctity of life and the authority and mercy of God. (Loc 944)

Individual suicide, however, is largely a secular act, not carried out under a religious banner (Loc 971)

Prevalent current approaches and diagnoses attempt to reduce suicidality to a set of faulty behaviours, complex models of motivations and impulses, negative thoughts, (Loc 984)

They deny or avoid the fact that suicide, as an act of killing, is underpinned by aggression turned against the self. (Loc 986)

suicidal behaviour results from a complex interplay of factors, (Loc 994)

Intention, (Loc 995)

feelings of entrapment (Loc 995)

triggered by defeat/humiliation (Loc 996)

determined by (Loc 998)

factors that facilitate/obstruct (Loc 998)

addition, background factors (e.g., deprivation, vulnerabilities) and life events (e.g., relationship crisis), (Loc 999)

the heart of the matter (Loc 1007)

the central features of the suicidal state: defeat, entrapment, constriction, etc., (Loc 1007)

two very important aspects about suicide. One: that it is an unconscious act. Two: that it is an act of aggression. (Loc 1010)

The intention is to kill the self and at the same time aggress the Other. (Loc 1014)

The real whammy in suicide, and what makes it so difficult to get hold of, is that, more often than not, the person does not know this herself. Usually her aggressive wishes are so deeply repressed, cut off, unknown, and, most important, felt to be unacceptable, that they are utterly repressed. (Loc 1015)

The World Health Organization is extremely well placed to talk about suicide and has some excellent material available. (Loc 1043)

include Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, (Loc 1044)

“Myths”. (Loc 1045)

Myth: Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal. (Loc 1048)

Fact: Heightened suicide risk is often short term and situation-specific. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life. (Loc 1049)

Myth: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement. (Loc 1052)

Fact: Given the widespread stigma around suicide, most people who are contemplating suicide do not know who to speak to. Rather than encouraging suicidal behaviour, talking openly can give an individual other options or the time to rethink his/her decision, thereby preventing suicide. (Loc 1054)

Myth: Only people with mental disorders are suicidal. (Loc 1057)

Fact: Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness but not necessarily mental disorder. Many people living with mental disorders are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental disorder. (Loc 1058)

Myth: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning. (Loc 1062)

Fact: The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. Of course there are some suicides that occur without warning. But it is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them. (Loc 1063)

Myth: Someone who is suicidal is determined to die. (Loc 1066)

Fact: On the contrary, suicidal people are often ambivalent about living or dying. Someone may act impulsively by drinking pesticides, for instance, and die a few days later, even though he would have liked to live on. Access to emotional support at the right time can prevent suicide. (Loc 1067)

Myth: People who talk about suicide do not mean to do it. (Loc 1071)

Fact: People who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help or support. A significant number of people contemplating suicide are experiencing anxiety, depression, and hopelessness and may feel that there is no other option. (Loc 1072)

I would add to this two other commonly held beliefs which we often hear spoken: Myth: If someone survives suicide they are no longer a risk.

Myth: Once a person has tried suicide they will not try again. (Loc 1074)

Fact: Having tried and not completed a suicide a person can remain at very high risk. The fact of “failing” may well reinforce feelings of worthlessness and uselessness and lead to a greater suicidality. (Loc 1078)

important to take seriously their intention to kill themselves and not disregard it because it has not succeeded. (Loc 1080)

I would draw particular and urgent attention to that most prevalent of myths, namely, (Loc 1085)

that if we talk about suicide to someone we will give him the idea and put dangerous ideas into his head. This is absolutely not the case. If a person is a suicidal it is a great relief to be able to talk about it and to realise that someone else can bear it. This of itself is therapeutic and may even be enough to move that person from immediate danger. (Loc 1086)

One of the horrendous features of suicide is isolation, becoming withdrawn from the world. Once someone has asked the person about suicide, and is prepared to listen to her, this very dangerous aspect of suicide, feeling utterly on her own with it, has already shifted. (Loc 1088)

if she is not suicidal and she is asked about it there is no harm done. It may even help her formulate better what she is feeling and what state of mind she is in. It may be a relief for her to realise she is not suicidal. (Loc 1090)

One of the reasons that we do not easily enter the territory of suicide with another is our fear - fear of what she might say and a fear that we will not know how to respond, together with a sense that we will have to do something about it. (Loc 1092)

Another possible reason (Loc 1093)

is a sort of embarrassment. (Loc 1094)

talking openly, even if you are not a professional, can relieve the pressure and open up options that the person can follow up with your support. (Loc 1096)

There are also other myths I would add to the WHO list, some more important than others. (Loc 1099)

It is often felt that bad weather and long dark winter nights contribute to rises in suicide. But actually the evidence is to the contrary. (Loc 1100)

although Christmas often brings its own pressures. (Loc 1102)

seems perfectly understandable to me. Just when all around starts springing into life, the weather starts to improve, the buds burst, etc., the suicidal and depressed feel all the more frozen, left out in the cold, in contrast to the liveliness around them. (Loc 1102)

At least in winter everyone retreats a bit. Spring and summer may well accentuate the feelings of isolation, remove, and despair in the suicidal mind. (Loc 1104)

Misunderstanding is a form of rejection - “I just don't (want to) get it.” But the paradox is that by “getting it”, allowing it, rather than misunderstanding or dismissing it or modelling it, we are likely to do far more good and are more likely to prevent suicide. (Loc 1170)

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