Suicide Myths: From Stigma to Normalized Debate

The stigma of suicide in our culture begins in Greece, where suicide was considered an impious act towards the gods and which also deprived the community of one of its members. Later, Rome will collect this heritage and strictly prohibit suicide.

Although the first Christian communities tolerated suicide in some way, the Church, starting with San Agustín, expressly condemns it considering it suicide and a flagrant violation of the fifth commandment, “thou shalt not kill”. Suicide is a sin and suicide is a sinner.

In the Middle Ages, this evil of suicide reached atrocious extremes, dragging his body after death, seeing him in a thousand and one ways and above all, refusing him burial.

With the Renaissance, the weight of the religious idea of ​​sin was lightened and the notion of suicide as a personal choice, but always link with psychopathological alterations.

From the 18th century, suicide was secularized and definitively decriminalized, but remained inextricably linked to mental illness. Although suicide is not considered, in itself, as a mental illness, it is associated with all types of pathologies.

    Questioning the stigma of suicide

    This road currently leads us to approach a growing scourge with the historic weight of stigma, sin and mental illness. To which must be added the popular belief, including the scientific community, of the need not to make suicide and suicidal behavior visible, lest they cause what is called the “pull effect”. “.

    This thesis has its roots in the so-called Werther effect, associated with Goethe’s work “Las penas del joven Werther” (1774), which recounts in diary form the protagonist’s pain following a heartache that occurs ends with his suicide. The success of the work was immense. However, the number of suicides soared, this phenomenon being attributed to the contagion of many young people identified with the suffering of young Werther.

    The scientific evidence does not support this idea, pointing in another direction. The literature concludes that imitation of these suicidal behaviors occurs when communicated in a romanticized wayidealizing the malaise or presenting only the suicides of media or reference personalities.

    Given the stubbornness of the figures, this approach to suicidal behavior is currently being revised. In 2020, 3,941 people will commit suicide in our country, without further ado. The highest number ever seen. About 300 of these people were young people between 14 and 29 years old. Suicide is currently the leading cause of death among young people aged 16 to 23. In other words, a person commits suicide every two and a quarter hours. 11 people per day.

      The Papageno Effect

      Today we have enough data and research to say that talking about suicide correctly does not increase the possibility of suicide. This is called the Papageno effect, named after a character in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. Papageno, in despair, plans his suicide, but three childish spirits dissuade him by presenting him with other alternatives to death.

      It seems proven that when we talk about suicide in a responsible, empathetic way and proposing alternatives, the result is positive and undoubtedly contributes to saving lives. This reality is growing stronger, being the basis of the current tendency to lift the veil from this hitherto silent scourge.

      More Suicide Myths

      Throughout 2021, we started talking openly about suicide. Thus, September 10 has been declared World Suicide Prevention Day. And in our country we already have a suicide prevention line, in the public system, accessible anonymously through 024. We stopped considering it a taboo subject and started talking about it, which happened proved to have a great preventive effect.

      Another myth about suicide is that it only affects people who have psychiatric disorders or symptoms. The scientific literature has shown that suicidal behavior is a complex and multifactorial problem, which is not due to a single cause, and in which psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors intervene. Most often, these factors act cumulatively, increasing the person’s vulnerability to suicidal behavior.

      Although the prevalence rates of various pathologies as risk factors (especially depression) are high, it cannot be concluded that suicidal behavior is exclusive to people with mental illnesses. In other words, not everyone who commits suicide suffers from a mental illness, and not everyone with a mental illness either commits suicide, although this is an important predictor.

      We will finally quote another suicide myth that claims that suicide is hereditary, which usually frightens the relatives concerned a lot. No study supports the existence of genetic determinism.

      What can be hereditary is a predisposition to suffer from a mental illness, even depression, but it will depend on multiple environmental factors that this illness can develop and, in its case, it should not necessarily lead to consummated suicide .

        As a conclusion

        We must bury this stigma forever and open a social and human debate at all levels and at all levels in order to prevent these behaviors and alleviate the suffering of the victims and the families affected. More light, less risk, more communication, better prevention.

        Author: Javier Elcarte. Founder and director of Vitaliza. Specialist in traumatology.

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