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In honor of suicide prevention awareness month, we featuring a post addressing the myth that attempting suicide is a cry for help. When someone in our family or group of friends attempts suicide, we often hear people, even experts, saying, “She doesn’t actually want to die, she’s just trying to get attention.” “He didn’t mean to overdose, it was really a cry for help.” “If she actually wanted to kill herself, she’d have done it.”

It may be true that the individual who made what seemed like a suicide attempt didn’t actually want to die. One rather large research study found that out of 286 people who said they’d had a suicide attempt, 41.8% answered “yes” on this survey question: “My suicide attempt was in fact a cry for help. I didn’t intend to kill myself.” But, if you look at the flip side, it means that 58.2% did in fact intend to kill themselves. These people answered “yes” to these survey questions: “I seriously tried to kill myself, it was just dumb luck that it didn’t work” or “I did try to kill myself, however I knew the way I went about it wasn’t totally fool-proof.” Nearly 60% of the people who attempted suicide intended to die.

When you consider the people who said they’d attempted suicide but didn’t really intend for it to work, they still have serious problems and these people need our concern and compassion, not ridicule and derision. First of all, people who harm themselves in something like a suicide attempt do this because they’re in a great deal of pain, they’re desperate for some reason or suffering from severe emotional distress. If they are indeed making a cry for help, there must be a good reason, which means we should listen. Second of all, there is nothing abnormal about wanting attention.

Everyone needs attention; what’s different among individuals is what they do to get it. When someone threatens or attempts suicide something terribly wrong. Even when the individual doesn’t actually plan to carry it through, he or she is in desperate need of help. Even those who make threats or attempt suicide in a quest for attention can succeed and die. Mistakes do happen.

In fact, suicidal ideation and/or behavior is certainly serious and a potentially deadly problem. If you know someone who is saying they want to die and is talking about suicide – or they’ve even attempted it – you must take them at their word. They deserve compassion, empathy and most of all your help or that of a professional or both. You cannot afford to think that they are not suicidal when in fact they really are. They might just be making a cry for help, in which case they are providing an opportunity to take them seriously and help them.