Suicide and Self harm (myths)
There are a number of myths regarding suicide and self-harm. Unfortunately, these myths permeate our understanding, and sometimes have a negative impact on our attempts to help someone who is struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
Cutting is the only form of Self Harm
Hurting yourself can come in many forms. One of the more obvious forms is ‘cutting’ or inflicting physical harm on one’s self. However, other forms that create physical pain, such as pinching, pulling hair or punching themselves or a wall are other forms of self-harm that are frequently encountered.
Self-harm is an attempt at suicide.
Self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but rather a manner in which individuals attempt to express their emotional or mental pain in a physical manner. It is often used as a coping mechanism, and does not always mean the individual wishes to die.
Self-harm is only done by adolescents
People of all ages engage in self-harm
Self-harm is an attention-seeking behaviour
Most people who engage in self-harm try to hide their scars and injuries, and they are often only discovered by accident. This myth often reinforces negative ideas in those who do engage in self-harm, and can create a vicious cycle of negative beliefs and self-harm. Rather than believing individuals self-harm for attention, we should understand that self-harm is used as a way of expressing emotional pain, and should respond with compassion and understanding.
Discussing suicide and self-harm will push people to engage in these acts
There is no evidence to suggest discussing self-harm or suicidal thoughts with someone will push them to this, or put ideas in their head. Discussing these ideas often has the opposite effect, whereby these thoughts are expressed and discussed, rather than running on a loop inside the person’s head.
A person who has suicidal thoughts wants to attempt suicide
People can often express thoughts of suicide without wanting to end their life. Often people will have these thoughts, but do not intend to harm themselves. Talking these issues through can help encourage people to work towards better mental health and continue with life.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are discussing suicide or self-harm, be sure to let the person know you care. Allow them to speak to you about their feelings, and listen to what they have to say. Be patient, calm, and non-judgmental, and reassure them there is help available. Don’t try to argue with them, and don’t ask them to justify their feelings. Often just talking through these thoughts and feelings is enough to start the process towards better mental health.
So why does suicide come into someone’s mind in the first place?
Our brains were built to fix things and sometimes in life we get really stuck in a situation and can fall into an isolated and horrible state that is mentally horrible. When our brain thinks that there is no way to stop the horrible situation or end the pain sometimes we start to think of suicide to end the pain. Suicide is thought to be the answer simply because it would end the pain but this doesn’t mean that this is correct or should be believed. This is a big reason why mental illness and suicide go hand in hand as our ability to reason through this diminishes and we can be so consumed with difficult mental health symptoms. Suicidal thinking might be just a way for your brain to give you warning sign that things are too much and you need help. Quite often someone thinking about suicide ir holding onto a lot of emotions without feeling able to reach out. Just that connection with someone else and talking about your problems can alleviate suicidal ideation.
So when someone is thinking about suicide this does not mean they are giving up. A thought is a thought only and does not give any weight to what this mean about the person thinking it. For instance if you have the thought of yelling at someone that cuts you off on a road does not mean you an aggressive person. Suicidal thinking is very much a reaction to poor mental health, horrible situations and it very much points to how alone the person feels with what they are carrying.
Do you have someone you are worried about who might be thinking about suicide?
This can be very scary having a friend or loved one with the warning signs of suicidal thinking. They may have said ‘it’s not worth it anymore’ or I’m going to end it all’ or maybe they are starting to say goodbye to people in their life. Whatever it is, it is very important that we speak to someone who can assess the risk level and support systems to best work with this person. Here are some very clear pointers to help you walk through supporting this person.
Reach out for help.
There are national 24hour numbers like the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or the Victorian state service Suicide Line 1300 651 251 (Victoria based). These trained counsellors can assess the current risk, work with you on your worries and encourage you around a path forward. Stuart and Prue have worked on these lines for a number of years and believe these services can very much help you whenever you need it.
Calling a Police Welfare check
Sometimes if your loved one/friend is sending you text messages that are scary like they are saying goodbye or giving up messages you can actually call the local police station closes to the person and ask the police to go to the home to check on their safety. This is sometimes needed if we don’t know the risk level and there is little cooperation from the person in seeking help on a particular night.
000 is for an emergency situation where you have details of the person acting on suicidal thoughts or about to and not willing to engage in safety planning. These high risk situations need to be reported immediately to get quick response to where the person is. Do not hesitate to call the police in these situations because the safety of the person is the most important concern here.
Local Crisis and Assessment Teams (CAT or mental health triage)
CAT teams are based all around Australia and can be a helpful resource if the person of concern has significant mental health issues effecting the person and their safety. You can find the local cat team by typing into google CAT team and then the town or suburb the person lives in. A CAT team will assess the situation with you over the phone and may call the person of concern or sometimes visit them to assess their mental health further.
Follow Up Support
Thinking about suicide does not just naturally vanish and is a bigger indication of the person feeling isolated, stuck and needing psychological help. This means that linking into a counsellor to deal with these problems needs to happen. A professional can firstly work on the suicide or self harm risk to develop some safety planning and then work through the reasons why suicide is being contemplated on a deeper level. It is possible to get help that improves thoughts and feelings and lessen the power of recurring suicidal ideation.
At the very least ring the Suicide Call Back Service. This is so you have some back up and direction about what best to do. Suicide prevention is about open communication with people we are concerned about and also reaching out for professional support for the third party (you) and for the person of concern
Both Prue Gilligan and Stuart Cheverton are highly trained counsellors and have worked in the area of suicide prevention for a number of years. We stand out as professionals who can sit with risk and we are not scared off by thoughts related self harm or ending your life. Our team is able to support you or a loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts or self harm but we are not an emergency service. Prue and Stuart can provide counselling and ongoing support. To discuss this further please call our intake phone on 0411 791 089 Safe Place Therapy, Your Safe Place to talk
Please call the Suicide Call Back Service if you are thinking about self harm or suicide or if you are concerned for someone else’s safety. Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467