Suicide is a complicated topic. The thought processes for people who have suicidal thoughts are around loneliness, isolation, and feeling that friends and family would be better off without them. Following suicide of a friend or loved one, bereavement can be accompanied by shock, feeling isolated, anger and guilt. Mourners of suicide show a critical need for communication and social interaction, as does anyone in grief, to combat the stigma around cultural views of suicide.
While attention and support for mental health and mental illness continue to grow, and positive steps are being taken to acknowledge and support people suffering from mild to severe issues, the stigma around suicide continues.
In Australia, many people still consider suicide to be taboo and avoid talking about it because they don’t understand it or know what to say. Some research suggests that higher suicide rates may be linked to greater stigma toward mental illness. Common misconceptions about people who have died by suicide are that they are selfish or took the easy way out. In popular culture, people with a mental illness may face ridicule or even be feared.
The unfortunate side effect of this can result in people not seeking help when they need it, while those who have lived experience of suicide internalise their feelings of shame because of this perception of how they’re viewed by their peers and society.
Stigma also affects those bereaved by suicide. Research suggests that those bereaved by suicide report higher levels of rejection, shame and blame than other bereaved people.
What can we do to help break down the stigma?
- Research suggests that individuals recognise suicide warnings as easily as they do for heart attacks, but there is discomfort and uncertainty about how to help. Act on those thoughts and concerns, as your help could make all the difference. If you’re worried about someone you know, call us anytime on Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
- Raise your voice. Survivors shouldn’t be expected to carry this weight by themselves, so tackling stigma and prejudice around mental illness is a part we can all play.
- Those bereaved by suicide report higher levels of perceived stigma, shame, responsibility and guilt compared to sudden natural or unnatural death so reach out and show your support if someone you know is bereaved by suicide.
- Investigate ways to distribute education in schools, workplaces and in social environments to discuss the underlying psychological mechanisms of suicide.
- Examine your thought processes, your understandings. Are they right? Could you invite more sensitivity into yourself around mental illness stigma?
- Use your social networks to discuss suicide and mental illness openly, share content on social media, and spread the word.
 Silvén Hagström, A. (2016). ‘Suicide stigma’ renegotiated: Storytelling, social support and resistance in an Internet-based community for the young suicide-bereaved. Qualitative Social Work, 147332501664403.
 Scocco, P., Preti, A., Totaro, S., Ferrari, A., & Toffol, E. (2017). Stigma and psychological distress in suicide survivors. Journal Of Psychosomatic Research, 94, 39-46.
 Rudd, M., Goulding, J., & Carlisle, C. (2013). Stigma and Suicide Warning Signs. Archives Of Suicide Research, 17(3), 313-318.
 Pitman, A., Osborn, D., Rantell, K., & King, M. (2016). The stigma perceived by people bereaved by suicide and other sudden deaths: A cross-sectional UK study of 3432 bereaved adults. Journal Of Psychosomatic Research, 87, 22-29.
 Hanschmidt, F., Lehnig, F., Riedel-Heller, S., & Kersting, A. (2016). The Stigma of Suicide Survivorship and Related Consequences—A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE, 11(9), e0162688.
If you or someone you know needs support, please reach out to one of our counselling services.
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