Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts

My father suffered so severely that he became depressed, and he became so depressed that he died of suicide. That started me on a quest to find an end to suffering, and years later I did.

I took the suicide intervention training (ASIST) and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s safeTALK program (Suicide Alertness for Everyone), and encourage everyone to take it. Let’s keep each other safe.

Recently, I’ve heard some disturbing statements and beliefs about suicide, so decided to do some myth-busting.

Is suicide an act of selfishness?

Yes, and no.

No, as in, the person did not think, “I’m going to do this to leave you to deal with it.” That was not their purpose or intention. Actually, they quite often convince themselves that their loved ones will be better off without them.

And yes, as in, their excruciating pain becomes their highest priority, and they must do something to help themselves, and this is all they believe they have left. Of course, it is not.

Believing that suicide is an act of selfishness, is an act of selfishness.

Suicide is an act of suffering.

Is suicide thoughtless?

Do you mean in the sense of someone willfully not thinking about the effect on others, not caring about them? Do you mean that you should have been the most important person, the most important thing, in the middle of someone else’s excruciating suffering? Indeed, during truly intense suffering, thoughts of others really simply cannot enter the mind, because the only thought is to stop the pain.

If someone suffers an accident and are bleeding to death, do you think that their most important thought should be of you? If someone suffers an illness, and their very existence is in question, do you think their most important thought should be of you? Depression and pain severe enough to bring about thoughts of suicide is an illness.

Why doesn’t a suicidal person seek help?

Actually, they do, consciously and/or unconsciously. For numerous reasons outlined below, they are unable to initiate speaking about it, and need permission to talk about it. But most people miss, dismiss, or avoid their pain and problem.

Invitations to talk about suicide

You may see the person

  • Become care-less
  • Become moody
  • Withdraw
  • misuse alcohol or drugs

You may hear them talk about

  • being alone
  • being a burden
  • having no purpose
  • having no escape

You may sense they are

  • desperate
  • hopeless
  • numb
  • ashamed

You may learn that they have experienced

  • abuse
  • losses
  • rejection
  • suicide of other friends or family

Missing the invitations

Just because you are not getting it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t said or wasn’t shown. People miss it by the busyness in their own lives, or not connecting the above cries for help with messages of possible suicide. You see, people with thoughts of suicide are always trying to tell us, they are trying to speak the unspeakable, and they are inviting help, consciously or unconsciously. Yet, they are careful or reluctant to directly tell people.

People with suicidal thoughts may speak vaguely, like, “it doesn’t matter,” “I just want it all to end,” “I’m taking care of it,” or “I can’t take it anymore,” “people are better off without me,” speaking about missing a dead loved one, or speaking about death in general, and in these ways they are always trying to tell us about their suicidal thoughts; one way or another, they are inviting conversation and help.

Why don’t people with suicidal thoughts say so?

  • they feel bad enough as it is, and are afraid of making it worse
  • they are uncertain or have doubts
  • they hope if they ignore it, it will just go away
  • there’s stigma, and shame
  • they don’t want to burden others
  • pride gets in the way
  • they want to find a solution on their own
  • they’re afraid of admitting failure
  • they are confused, and cannot figure it out
  • they may believe suicide will unburden others

People dismiss suicide by believing myths like suicide is rare, only for certain risk groups, or only for people acting strangely. But suicide happens across all groups, so no groups matter – anyone is at risk.

A hunch is all you need, not certainty, to ask and speak openly about having thoughts of suicide. One in 20 people could be thinking about suicide. When someone does talk openly they are often desperate, or perhaps it’s the first time they’ve ever talked about emotions.

I don’t want to give them the idea of suicide

  • suicide is not whimsical; you cannot make someone suicidal simply by asking – they already are suicidal, or not
  • someone not thinking about suicide will not be inclined toward it simply because you ask about it
  • your expression of concern, and of the seriousness of suicide will be kindly rejected by someone not suicidal, or appreciated by someone who is

Not asking about suicide is the worst thing you can do with someone who is suicidal and unable to share; ignoring it does not help. The only way to know who is suicidal and who is not, is to ask.

Why is suicide seen as a solution?

Quite often the person does not see any other option; they feel they have tried everything, and have run out of options or support. This isolation is magnified when unable to speak about having thoughts of suicide. There is help, and there are ways out; sometimes we need help getting help.

Do people really want to die?

No; they want to end the pain. When someone’s brain experiences extreme suffering, it malfunctions and rational, healthy, cognitive thinking is simply not available to them. Communicating pain and sending out invitations to talk about it is a cry for help from someone who wants to live pain free.

Why don’t other people ask about suicide thoughts?

  • the stigma, the shame
  • they are afraid
  • they’d rather it would just disappear and hope it will if they ignore it
  • they fear talking about it will make it happen
  • they don’t know what to do
  • they think they will have to handle it
  • they are not equipped with contacts who can handle it

Why does someone have thoughts of suicide?

People have suicidal thoughts because they are in pain and cannot see a way out. Simply because you cannot see a way out does not mean there is none. Having thoughts of not helping a friend in need does not stop us from helping. Having thoughts of suicide does not mean we must act on them. When a body part is broken, like an arm, we go to an expert for help. When the brain is malfunctioning, we must also get to an expert.

Thoughts of Suicide?

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, get immediate help. Do not stay alone. Do not leave someone who is having suicidal thoughts alone.
Call a crisis line.

U.S. National Crisis Hot Lines:

Suicide Line


Talk Line


Deaf Hotline

1-800-799-4TTY (4889)

emergency: 911

Canadian National Crisis Hot Lines:

Crisis Line


Kids Help Phone


Deaf Hotline (TDD)


emergency: 911



Comments 2

  1. Hi Cindy,
    I appreciate what you wrote. Over a year ago a gave a talk at Toastmasters on Suicide. It’s an important myth to bust. I particularly appreciated your spin on the “selfish” judgement.

    1. Post

      Oh, interesting Robb! I didn’t know that about you; another commonality for us ;-).
      Yes, it is important. Grateful for all you do, Love Cindy

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