Society has preconceived ideas about people with a mental health issue. Not only does this stigma cloud how people view the actions of someone with a mental illness, it also determines how a “normal” person believes someone with a mental illness should look. So when I attempted suicide last year, it took many people by surprise. They had this idea that I was “too smart to ever do anything so stupid”, and I did not fit into their idea of what a person with a mental illness should look like.
Many people think that if someone attempts suicide they are weak or have some sort of character flaw. Some have religious beliefs that say suicide is an unforgivable sin. In the face of such negativity, is it any wonder that many people with suicidal thoughts will not reach out for help?
People who are suicidal are not weak nor do they have a character flaw. They are individuals with very real illnesses who need understanding, respect, and care, not judgments and misunderstanding.
The stigma associated with mental illness prevents many people who are at risk of suicide from seeking help for treatable problems. The stigma of suicide itself may also reduce the number of people who reach out for help, and adds to emotional burdens. Family members of suicide attempters often hide the behavior from friends and relatives, since they may believe that it reflects badly on their own relationship with the suicide attempter or that suicidal behavior itself is shameful or sinful. Persons who attempt suicide may have many of these same feelings. Those who have survived the suicide of a loved one suffer not only the grief of loss, but the pain of isolation from a community that may be perplexed and uninformed about suicide and its risk factors.
Historically, the stigma associated with mental illness, has contributed to inadequate funding available for mental health services and suicide prevention programs. It also contributes to insurance companies not providing enough health care coverage for mental health services.
Until the stigma is reduced, treatable mental health problems, including those with a strong relation to suicide, will continue to go untreated and crisis treatment services will also be limited. This means, the number of people at risk for suicide will remain much higher than it should be.
If you or a loved one is in imminent danger of committing suicide call 911 immediately.