Suicide Myths and Misconceptions

Suicide continues to be a leading cause of death for Americans, especially younger people, where homicide and accidents lag far behind suicide in fatality rates.  Budgets for suicide research and suicide prevention are woefully small, and stigma is still a barrier to seeking help, both for suicidal people and for their family members and supporters.  However, amidst all the bad news, research is beginning to show some important new insights.

Many people believe that suicide takes place after a long period of planning, but through interviews with suicide survivors, we find that the vast majority come to a decision and act on the same day.  As many as 25% of suicides are planned and carried out impulsively, within as little as five minutes.

Another belief is that if someone is prevented from committing suicide, they will persevere and find a way later, however, again, research among suicide survivors shows that the majority don’t try a second time if the first attempt fails.

A particularly interesting study interviewed 515 people who survived a jump from the Golden Gate bridge, either surviving the fall, or being pulled back from the ledge.  Researchers followed up this group for 26 years, within which time only 4.9 percent went on to die by suicide.  The vast majority made no second attempt.  This speaks to the impulsivity of suicide, and also to the realization that people sometimes come to during an attempt, that, in the face of death, their problems suddenly seem less overwhelmingly important.

For these reasons, the method people use to attempt suicide can make a big difference.  More than half of the successful suicides in the United States are committed with a gun, so limiting access to guns, especially among children and vulnerable people can save many lives.  Having a firearm in the house triples the risk of suicide, and the risk is even higher for children and young people who may not have access to other methods, such as drug overdose.

Studies in states that have passed child-access prevention laws saying that all firearms must be locked up if there is a minor living in the home show that a reduction in suicide death of up to 8% among teenagers.  And states such as Indiana and Connecticut that have passed “extreme risk” laws where a gun can be temporarily removed from a home where there is some kind of mental health or domestic violence risk have also found as much at 7.5% reduction in firearm suicide deaths.

Homicides and mass shootings are tragic incidents that get in the news, and often motivate some of the gun-access legislation that we are beginning to see, but the reality is that the vast majority of gun deaths in the USA are suicide.  Limiting people’s access to guns without infringing on their rights is an important way to reduce unnecessary deaths.

In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email or In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at

Further Reference:

The majority of US gun deaths are suicides: here’s how to prevent them.  Lois Beckett.  Guardian Online. Nov. 20, 2023. 

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