Suicide Awareness and Prevention: Stigma

For those of you who are not aware September was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month so this month here at Olive Branch we are bringing forward resources, dialogue, and education on suicide in an effort to start and continue the conversation. The reason for this blog is to discuss what it is that keeps us from having conversations about suicide, stigma. According to the Webster Dictionary stigma is defined as “a mark of shame or discredit.” Regarding today’s conversation we are looking at then how suicide, and those who are or have contemplated, attempted, or completed suicide, are looked at with shame and/or discredited for their experience.

                I believe many people are afraid to talk about suicide because it is almost as though if we don’t talk about it then it doesn’t exist or won’t happen. That’s not reality though. What is, is this:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US for all ages. (CDC)
  • Every day, approximately 123 Americans die by suicide. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes. (CDC)
  • Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (CDC)
  • Suicide takes the lives of over 44,965 Americans every year. (CDC)
  • The highest suicide rates in the US are among Whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives.
  • An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors (AAS).
  • There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts. (CDC)
  • There is one suicide for every estimated 4 suicide attempts in the elderly. (CDC)

                Not talking about suicide isn’t helping these statistics, however connecting individuals to resources, opening up the conversation, educating the community, and creating safe environments can. According to the CDC’s research and data collection from 1999 to 2017 there were significant increases in completed suicides by both men and women that only continued to grow. With this knowledge the hope is that we ring the alarms to bring attention to a much needed conversation. What we have been doing has not been enough to make a difference, so it’s time we start making one. It is clear from the data above and in the chart below, suicide is not abnormal in the sense that it isn’t uncommon. Yet, when it happens people are not only really surprised, but they can be quick to cover it up. For something so prevalent to be blatantly disregarded validates the idea that suicide is shameful and regardless of the story and any contributing factors, it shouldn’t be talked about because it is unacceptable to society. This can be internalized by someone who is contemplating or has attempted suicide as an indication of the person they are. Feeling ashamed for having suicidal ideation takes precedence over their worthiness to live and can further exacerbate the negative feelings they are already experiencing. If someone knows that their ideation will be looked down upon by others then the likelihood that they will be comfortable in communicating it to others is low. In the same wave of thought, if someone knows or believes that if they take their life no one will talk about it anyways, why would they be inclined to share their story before they go? By engaging in stigma and maintaining this cycle of negligent behavior we are silencing the voices of individuals both past and present.

Steps you can take now to reduce stigma

  • Get educated on the risk factors and signs that someone may be contemplating suicide
    • Look up your state’s mental health organizations and look into their resources
    • Seek out organizations dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness for more information and even training opportunities
    • Attend a mental health first aid class held by your local NAMI(National Alliance on Mental Illness)
    • Follow verified mental health organizations and accounts on social media
    • Read blogs and research on suicide
    • Listen to podcasts that destigmatize mental health and suicide
  • Learn about mental health disorders to better understand potential risk factors, symptoms, and signs that contribute to someone’s suicidal ideation
  • Talk about suicide and mental health
    • Bring your questions and concerns to mental health professionals
    • Normalize the conversation amongst friends and family
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the question directly to someone you think may be contemplating suicide
  • Reach out to your loved ones whether you think they are doing okay or not; you never know what happens behind closed doors.
  • Share education and resources you find with others in conversation and social media
  • Become an advocate for mental health and those struggling
    • Get involved in your local NAMI chapter
    • Research state organizations and learn about their missions to find an appropriate fit for your interests
  • Show up for those you care about and follow through on actions, be consistent and realistic.

-Courtney, Graduate Intern

If you or a loved one are in a crisis or struggling with thoughts of suicide please reach out to the National Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. For mental health services in the Chicagoland area contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates at 708-633-8000 or


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