By Olivia Kirtley.
It is estimated that more than 800,000 individuals die globally each year as a result of suicide and for those aged 15-29 years old, suicide is the second leading worldwide cause of death after road traffic accidents 1. But we don’t whisper about car accidents, or exchange sideways glances when someone mentions they lost a loved one in a car crash; yet we do shy away from discussing suicide. Is not talking about suicide also causing harm? And when suicide is talked about in the media, is it in a way that does more damage than good?
Talking about suicide can be challenging from many angles. On the one hand, we don’t talk about it enough individually, perpetuating stigma and feelings of shame towards those experiencing suicidal thoughts and ultimately reducing the likelihood that they will seek support. Asking a loved one if they are thinking about suicide could save their life. On the other, when suicide is covered in the media, it is often in a way that further stigmatises those who are suicidal or even increases suicide risk for vulnerable individuals, with lurid headlines contributing to “copycat” suicides.
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Olivia Kirtley is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Center for Contextual Psychiatry at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium and Honorary Research Fellow in the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory at the University of Glasgow.