Twitter was ablaze this morning upon hearing about 20-year-old R&B singer Kehlani’s recent suicide attempt. Some poured out heartfelt well wishes and support

While many more used the opportunity to crack jokes or pass judgment.

The negative comments aren’t worth discussion, except to illustrate that American society – even the Millennial generation – still has a huge problem discussing suicide. Responses range from dismissal to callous to well-meaning, but unintentionally hurtful. Below, I explore five myths about suicide that often underpin these unhelpful responses

Myth 1. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

No, no, no, no, no

While this may sound catchy, it's a dangerously inaccurate caricature of why people actually experience suicidal ideations. More than 90% of those who die by suicide have an existing mental illness or substance abuse problem. Mental illnesses such as depression affect a person's moods, thoughts, and ability to cope with everyday life. According to the Mayo Clinic, suicidal thoughts can emerge when an already hopeless person experiences tunnel vision during a crisis; they feel overwhelmed and mistake suicide as a viable option

Most suicidal people are not thinking rationally in a moment of crisis. When people dismiss suicide as "a permanent solution to a temporary problem," they are ignoring the role that mental illness plays. They may also cause the suicidal person to feel increased guilt or shame. A more helpful response is to acknowledge the person's pain and assure them that help is available. Call 911 or take them to the emergency room if they are in immediate danger, or encourage them to utilize the suicide lifeline or call their doctor if they are not in immediate crisis

Myth 2: Talking about suicide or “threatening” to attempt suicide is attention-seeking behavior.

Photo: For Harriet
Photo: For Harriet
Talking about suicide is not attention-seeking. In fact, talking about wanting to die or attempt suicide is a warning sign that should not be ignored. Many suicidal people speak directly or indirectly about their intentions. Other warning signs include feeling hopeless, feeling like a burden to others, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, or being withdrawn or feeling isolated

Myth 3: If someone plans to attempt suicide, there is nothing you can do to stop them.

Suicidal people often have mixed feelings about death. They don't want to die - they just want to stop hurting. If you suspect that a family member or friend is having suicidal thoughts, it is okay to ask directly. This suicide prevention help guide offers useful tips for how to approach the conversation. Be empathetic, listen, and reassure them that help is available. Don't try to argue or convince them that they have so much to live for. Remember that they are dealing with an overwhelming illness and may have trouble seeing your perspective in their state of crisis. Focus on telling the person that they are important to you and offer to connect them with someone (such as a crisis line or therapist) who can help

Myth 4: Black people don’t attempt suicide.

Photo: halloftheblackdragon.com
Photo: halloftheblackdragon.com
Suicide affects every demographic. Depression and suicide rates in young black males and teenage Hispanic girls have increased. On average, 8.2 percent of black teens attempt suicide compared to 6.3 of their white counterparts

Myth 5: Suicide is cowardly and selfish.

Suicide is not cowardly or selfish: it is often the heartbreaking consequence of untreated mental illness, or simply an inability to cope with extreme stress. Kevin Caruso elegantly stated, "Suicide is a desperate act by someone who is in intense pain and wants their pain to stop. That is a HUMAN response to extreme pain, not a selfish one." We should focus on offering help and hope to those in pain rather than passing moral judgment

Photo: HelloBeautiful
Photo: HelloBeautiful
Suicide is an unfortunate reality that touches every segment of society. Tackling suicide begins with de-stigmatizing the issue. We can each do our part by gently correcting those who continue to perpetuate myths about suicide and suicide attempt survivors

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1 (800) 273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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