Myths About Suicide: book review

myths about suicide, by Thomas Joiner. Publisher: Harvard University Press 2010. Hardcover. 304 pg.

We need to get it in our heads that suicide is not easy, painless, cowardly, selfish, vengeful, self-masterful, or rash . . . that it is partly genetic and influenced by mental disorders, themselves often agonizing; and that it is preventable . . . and treatable.

Joiner’s father committed suicide which infuses his academic research with additional empathy and relevance. He states that people die from suicide because they possess both the ability and the desire. In additional, a suicidal person feels both perceived burdensomeness [view that one’s existence burdens family, friends, and society] and a sense of low belongingness [perception that one does not belong—the feeling that one is alienated from others and not an integral part of a family, circle of friends, or other valued group]. The finely articulated points in Myths About Suicide make this book an excellent resource about a highly stigmatized topic.

Some myths that Joiner discusses:

Myth: suicide is an easy escape.
–successful methods of death by suicide include jumping, drowning, decapitation, hanging, stabbing and shooting in back of the head. None of these are easy to do.

Myth: suicide is an act of anger, aggression or revenge
–anger and vengefulness an be risk factors
–American Association of Suicidology mnemonic for suicide warning signs—IS PATH WARM?
S—substance abuse
M—mood fluctuations

Myth: suicide is selfish
–going back to the burden theory, the person committing suicide thinks that in doing so will relieve others if she is no longer around.

Myth: you have to be “out of your mind” to die by suicide
–“People who die by suicide do, I believe, undergo a kind of mental break involving their views of death—they come to see death as a comfort to others and to themselves—but this mental break is not the same thing as psychosis, intoxication, dementia, or delirium.

The best evidence to date indicates that around 95 percent of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their death.

Mental disorders are surprisingly common, but most people who have a mental disorder are neither psychotic, demented, intoxicated, nor delirious.”

Myth: most people who commit suicide leave a note behind
–3/4 of those who die by suicide do not leave a note
–Kurt Cobain’s lyrics told his unhappiness. He also left a note.
–Sylvia Plath wrote many poems which expressed her depression. She did not leave a note.

Myth: children do not commit suicide
–U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicides by suffocation (mostly hanging) accounted for 71% of all suicides of girls aged 10-14

Myth: if someone wants to die by suicide, he or she can’t be stopped
–Joiner suggests that mental health isn’t taken seriously and follow-up and diagnosis is poor.

Myth: it’s just a cry for help
–“Ignoring or otherwise mishandling suicide-related communications can have tragic consequences.”

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