Suicide is a complex issue that can affect everyone, including those who have died by suicide, survivors, family members, friends, and members of the wider community. Further, experts recognize that suicide is often rooted in a broad net of interconnected factors, including social, physical, circumstantial, psychological, economic, and cultural issues.
Nevertheless, in spite of the work of today’s leading suicidologists, suicide’s far-reaching effects and its links to various different aspects of our lives remain poorly understood and highly stigmatized. In particular, the widespread stigma around suicide is extremely harmful both to the people who are affected by it and to suicide prevention initiatives. For suicide prevention and treatment efforts to succeed, public health efforts including policy, funding, and research efforts need to be prioritized to improve the health and safety of those impacted most.
What Does Stigma Around Suicide Look Like?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stigma is defined as “the negative social attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency. A stigma implies social disapproval and can lead unfairly to discrimination against and exclusion of the individual.”
The stigma around suicide takes a variety of different forms. Often, it manifests as negative beliefs or stereotypes about suicide and the people affected by it. Those individuals (including those who have died by suicide, survivors, and their families) may also experience distrust and avoidance from other people, and may even receive differential treatment from professionals or social institutions.
What Contributes to the Stigma Around Suicide?
Historically, suicide has long been associated with immorality. Many religions (including Christianity, and especially Catholicism) consider suicide to be a sin. To this day, suicide remains illegal in many countries.
Broadly speaking, stigma is almost always the result of ignorance or false beliefs, and the stigma around suicide is no exception. There are many myths attributed to suicide, many of which are perpetuated by media and social media, and have reinforced existing stigmas around suicide. As a result, they become even more entrenched in our social consciousness.
What is the Impact of Suicide Stigma?
These beliefs are not just untrue (and in many cases, unfair) — they are also actively harmful to anyone who has been affected by suicide. For example:
- Stigma may impede the healing and recovery process for people who have attempted suicide. In some cases, the care they receive from healthcare professionals might be inadequate; that is, it might address their physical needs without taking care of the emotional or psychological needs that caused the attempt in the first place.
- Individuals who are suicidal might hesitate to reach out for help because they are afraid of being perceived as weak or a failure if they admit to contemplating suicide. This may result in any mental health issues they are experiencing being exacerbated.
- The families and loved ones of individuals who have died by suicide may experience feelings of self-blame of guilt, or may feel judged by other people. This, in turn, can impede their mourning process and make it difficult for them to find support in their grief.
How To End the Stigma of Suicide
Fortunately, the stigma around suicide and mental illness is decreasing, but there is still a long way to go. There are things that each of us can do in our daily lives to promote suicide prevention and foster a supportive environment for people who have been affected by suicide.
In particular, normalizing mental health treatment and combating myths about suicide are arguably the most important actions we can take to destigmatize suicide. This starts with widespread education efforts around the causes of suicide and effective prevention techniques. In addition, access to resources and support for those affected by suicide is important in helping individuals who are thinking about suicide, those who have attempted it, and the families and loved ones of those who have died by suicide and survivors alike.
The American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is dedicated to promoting the understanding and prevention of suicide, as well as providing support, hope, and healing to those who have been affected by it. AAS promotes the study of suicide as a research discipline, public awareness programs, public education, and training for professionals and volunteers. AAS membership includes mental health and public health professionals, researchers, suicide prevention and crisis intervention centers, school districts, crisis center volunteers, survivors of suicide loss, attempt survivors, and a variety of laypersons who have an interest in suicide prevention.
By joining the AAS, the largest and oldest suicide prevention membership organization in the U.S., you will be among the ranks of the world’s leading suicidologists and suicide prevention experts. Ready to join? Individual and Organizational Memberships are available!