Stigma silences. Stigma shames. Stigma controls. Stigma creates barriers.
Stigma isolates. Stigma alienates. Stigma spreads fear.
Perhaps nothing in the field of mental health is more stigmatized and misunderstood than suicide. Part of the problem is the stigma itself. Why is it so hard to talk about suicide?
As a suicide loss survivor and as a family member of people living with thoughts of suicide, I care deeply about suicide prevention. I created a survival guide for youth with a safety plan for if/when they experience thoughts of self-harm. I am ready to break the silence about suicide.
Talking about suicide in safe ways does not to lead to suicide. Talking about suicide prevention leads to saving lives. It’s the silence and stigma that are harmful.
What if we thought of suicide prevention like disaster preparedness? We know hurricane season is a thing. The people who are at risk are warned and help is made available. We even have evacuation systems in place.
We know who is at greatest risk for suicide, yet we are still reluctant to implement standard screenings for suicide. According to an interview with NPR, Dr. Christine Yu Moutier,the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says, “asking kids if they have had thoughts of hurting themselves can really help open up a safe space for them to talk about their distress.” (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/17/1093164270/kids-anxiety-screening-uspstf).
If talking about suicide creates safe spaces, then why are we so reluctant to do so? Stigma is contagious. When adults are afraid, unsure, and uncomfortable talking about suicide, then youth pick up on this discomfort and it shuts down conversation. Stigma silences us.
Our youth are hurting. Right now many of them don’t know who they can trust and talk to about thoughts of self-harm. Dr. Yu Moutier says, “We know that many youth who are thinking of suicide do not tell anyone.”
One way you can help end the stigma about suicide is to start the conversation. My new book, Blessed Youth: Breaking the Silence with Children and Teens about Mental Illness, is a book designed to help you to know how and where to begin. While stigma is contagious, so is hope. Help spread this message of hope and healing with people you love in your community.
Together, we can prevent suicide. One real conversation and one real connection at a time.
If you or a loved one is in danger of hurting yourself of someone else, call 911.
If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) It is 24/7 Free and confidential