During September, which is National Suicide Prevention Month, the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association (SBCPA) is hosting and participating in a series of events focused on suicide prevention.

The SBCPA, an organization of some 130 licensed psychologists and psychology graduate students, is seeking to educate the community about the epidemic of suicide, dispel myths about suicide, and share vital community resources. These activities and resources are listed on the association website https://www.sbcpa.org/.

Much knowledge about suicide is shrouded in myths, which confuse people and negatively impact suicide-prevention efforts. Commonly held myths about suicide are listed below and are refuted with research-supported data; also learn about effective suicide prevention.

» Myth: There are no easily accessible resources to help someone who is feeling suicidal.

Reality: There are a host of local and national resources to support someone feeling suicidal. Following are some resources:

If you are in crisis or feeling suicidal, help is available. Don’t hesitate to call the free 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

Santa Barbara Area — Free 24-hour local services are available. Contact CARES/ACCESS, 1-888-868-1649 or the SAFTY Mobile Crisis Team/ Hotline, 1-888-334-2777.

For additional resources, visit the Glendon Association website https://www.glendon.org/post-topic/suicide-prevention/.

» Myth: There are no generally agreed upon steps that the public can engage in to learn about suicide and engage in prevention efforts. 

Reality: Tools to decrease suicide exist and there are many professionals and local agencies that can assist the public. The 5-Step model promoted by the National Council for Suicide Prevention is a generally agreed upon, easily accessible model for effective awareness and prevention of suicide. These steps include:

Learn the signs, know how to help, practice self-care, and spread the word. More information about these steps are at https://www.take5tosavelives.org/take-5-steps.

» Myth: Talking about suicide leads people to commit suicide.

Reality: There is no research evidence that indicates talking to people about suicide, in the context of care, respect and prevention, increases their risk of committing suicide. Research shows that talking openly and responsibly about suicide lets a potentially suicidal person know they do not have to be alone, that there are people who want to listen, and that there is help.

Most people are relieved to finally be able to talk honestly about their feelings, and this can reduce the risk of an attempt.

» Myth: If one person commits suicide, it will lead to copycat suicides.

Reality: There is evidence that suicide clusters occur, mostly among youths, individuals age 25 and younger. However, it is not a given that a youth suicide will lead to other suicides. The CDC estimates about 1-5 percent of suicides among individuals age 25 and younger are cluster-related.

While the mechanism behind cluster-related suicides is not fully understood, it appears that if someone is already vulnerable (depressed, anxious, isolated, has made a previous attempt, and/or shows other warning signs), one suicide can trigger another. This is most prevalent when a vulnerable individual loses someone close to them.

Other conditions that can increase the risk of a cluster suicide are high-profile, sensational portrayals of suicide in the media, or glorification of a suicide victim. The CDC’s recommendations about preventing cluster suicides can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001755.htm.

» Myth: Once someone attempts suicide, they can’t be stopped, and will eventually commit suicide.

Reality: Research shows that while a suicide attempt puts one at very high risk for another attempt or completed suicide, not everyone who attempts suicide will do so again. Some research suggests suicide attempts are coupled with locations or mood states.

For example, Richard Seiden found that of the 515 survivors of a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, only 25 went on to commit suicide at a later date.

» Myth: Suicidal people want to die.

Reality: Most research suggests suicidal people are in pain and want the pain to end. They may be indifferent about ending their life, and the suicidal desire is often the result of a temporary state of mind. Often suicidal people are experiencing intolerable emotional pain, which they believe to be unrelenting.

They often feel hopeless and trapped. By helping a suicidal person to recognize and explore alternatives to dying, you are planting the seeds of hope that things can improve.

» Myth: There are no warning signs prior to suicide.

Reality: Individuals who are suicidal demonstrate certain verbalizations, behaviors, and mood states. They may talk about feeling hopeless, being in pain, and feeling trapped. They may engage in behavior including increased use of alcohol or drugs, sleeping too much or too little, giving away prized possessions, saying goodbye to people, showing anger, isolating themselves and withdrawing.

Their mood may reveal depression, anxiety, agitation, shame, and/or sudden improvement in mood.

» Myth: There are no risk factors that predict suicide.

Reality: Three general areas of risk factors for suicide have been identified. These include health factors (mental health diagnosis, physical health issues, and brain injury); environmental factors (prolonged stress, stressful life event, access to lethal means, and exposure to another person’s suicide or sensationalized account of a suicide); and historical factors (history of a suicide attempt, family history of suicide attempts, childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma).

» Myth: Talking with a professional about suicidal feelings is not helpful.

Fact: Working with a psychologist or other mental-health professional can help address the feelings that lead to self-harm or suicidal thinking. While it may be a challenge to seek therapy and trust someone, the therapeutic relationship can support a decrease in painful feelings.

There are numerous ways to access therapy in the community and services are often covered by insurance. The SBCPA website https://www.sbcpa.org/ has a Find a Psychologist tool and lists community resources under the resource tab.

— Winifred Lender is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Santa Barbara and can be contacted at drwinifredlender@gmail.com. She is the president of the Santa Barbara County Psychological Association. The opinions expressed are her own.