Removing the Stigma of Talking About Suicide

Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about. It can make people feel downright uncomfortable. But removing the stigma around the topic can help people who are struggling open up and talk about their feelings. And their friends and families need to be prepared to listen and offer help. 

A new suicide prevention program in Virginia, called Lock and Talk, focuses just as much on the importance of talking as it does on locking up lethal means of suicide such as guns and drugs. 

Explains Rebecca Textor, Suicide Prevention Specialist, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, “We do a lot of education around the Lock part of the program, and we provide materials for it (lock boxes, etc.). The second part is just as important: and that’s Talk. 

“We are encouraging community members to talk it out, talk about our mental health concerns, talk to each other way before we get to crisis mode, because a lot of front end prevention can diffuse those suicide behaviors or thoughts long before we have to worry about having someone look into hospitalization.”

Many people don’t need hospitalization if the talk is done early enough and carefully enough. “We help the public become much more confident in opening that conversation, with individuals who are in distress by bringing not only best practices, but also   courses, workshops, and trainings like mental health, first aid and suicide, alertness skills, trainings, or intervention skills training out for free to the public,” says Textor.

Education and resources are important, but just as important is encouraging people to reach out from both sides, says Ames Hart, Founder of Enter Hope, LLC. Her organization provides training on all aspects of suicide prevention work, as well as life coaching for individuals struggling with feelings of hopelessness. 

Hart says there are many layers to reaching out to talk about suicide, from both directions. For instance, someone who has attempted suicide often has to deal with people treating them differently. The fear of being judged or just of what someone might think of them, can paralyze them. And, on the other side, a person might be afraid to reach out to someone to offer help. “Do I reach out? Maybe I’m overthinking. Maybe they’ll think I’m being nosy or intrusive. So there are issues on both sides to overcome,” says Hart. 

People also sometimes hesitate to get trained about suicide prevention because they’re fearful of what they might be getting into. This is another barrier in helping people get connected to resources, to training, to useful education, says Hart. 

How do we overcome stigma?  “We overcome stigma by having honest conversations, honest conversations with our friends, with our family members, with individuals we have coffee with, whoever it might be, if we’ll take the time to make sure that conversation is okay to have, and give people permission to talk about this thing called suicide,” concludes Hart.