Black Dog survey reveals misconceptions about suicide

Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative regional manager Dr Alex Hains.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative regional manager Dr Alex Hains.

In order to prevent suicide deaths and attempts, it’s important to separate fact from fiction.

Despite awareness campaigns, high profile advocates and increased government funding over the last few years, suicide is still misunderstood by many in the community.

That’s why groups like the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative are keen to debunk the myths surrounding suicide.

“We know that there are some misconceptions out there about suicide. And importantly, some of these myths result in people not reaching out to those close to them who are struggling,” Dr Alex Hains, regional manager of the Collaborative, said.

“For example, the myth that asking someone if they’re thinking of killing themselves might put the idea in their head - that’s a really dangerous myth because it can stop people from reaching out to people at all.

“Also, myths or misconceptions about suicide can lead to discriminatory beliefs, such as people who attempt suicide are just attention-seeking. That doesn’t evoke the compassion and care that should be our response.”

To measure community awareness and stigma towards suicide in our communities, the Black Dog Institute has started to conduct an annual online survey of people’s attitudes and beliefs. 

Some misconceptions highlighted in the 2018 survey include the fact one in in 10 women, and two in 10 men, said that people who have thoughts about suicide should not tell others about it. Furthermore, 20 per cent of respondents believed that most people who suicide are psychotic.

Dr Hains said these type of views were dangerous – for instance seeking help is vital, while more than a third of people who suicide do not have a mental health condition.

Meantime 20 per cent of survey respondents stated that once a person is suicidal, they will always be suicidal. And almost half believed that people who talk about suicide rarely kill themselves.

“Again these responses suggest that people think there is no scope for recovery, which there clearly is,” Dr Hains said, “and if people believe that those who talk about suicide, rarely kill themselves, it means they’re not alert to this as a warning sign.”

The survey also asked respondents what supports they had used within the previous 12 months. While GP and psychologist were the most often endorsed (80 and 75 per cent respectively), family and friends weren’t far behind (both sources used by over 70 per cent of respondents).

“This again highlights how important it is that everyone across the community (including non-professionals) know what they can do to help,” Dr Hains said.

If you’d like to talk to anyone about the issues raised in this article call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.