Breaking the Stigma about Suicide

What is the stigma behind suicide?

  • Stigma: "A mark that denotes a shameful quality in the individual so marked" or a quality that is considered to be shameful in a certain individual
  • Social Stigma: "Prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given"
  • Perceived stigma/self stigma: "Internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination"

Source: Psychology Today 


The stigma surrounding suicide can perpetuate problematic myths around suicide and individuals who commit suicide: 

  • Asking someone about suicide may plant the idea in their minds
  • People who experience thoughts of suicide are fully intent on dying
  • Everyone who dies by suicide is depressed
  • A sudden improvement in emotional state after a suicide attempt or a depressive period indicates the suicide risk is over
  • Suicide is selfish or immoral

What current factors contribute to stigma?


Family members' relationship to person may affect the extent to which the patient stigma is transferred to family members. In extreme cases, family members may begin to stigmatize the person and behave in a way that leads the patient to believe suicide is the solution for the situation. A study also found that adolescents with mental health problems found stigma directed at them coming from family members. 46% of them described stigmatization in terms of unwanted assumptions.


In the same study mentioned above, 35% of adolescents reported stigma by teachers. These teachers would show "fear, dislike, avoidance, and underestimation of abilities" towards these students.


In the same study mentioned above, 62% of adolescents experienced stigmatization from their peers. This stigmatization leads to friendship losses and social rejection.




The popular press has been criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, especially via film and social media.

Film, television, and music portrayals of suicide perpetuate and glorify stereotypes that may lead to imitation acts. In social media sites such as Tumblr, the exhibition of self-harm, suicide, depression, and self-loathing are placed under the pretext of something that is "beautiful, romantic, or deep."

This glorification of self-pity could lead to the drowning out of stories of those who are clinically depressed versus those who are not. While social media does allow for awareness on the topic and self-identification, misinformation about the mental disorders are prevalent, leading for mental illness diagnoses, such as depression, for normal everyday things.

Why is the suicide stigma so damaging?

The stigma does not promote a healthy recovery:

In a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 83% of participants felt conscious of the stigma associated with mental illness and had difficulty seeking help. Only 54% of participants had discussed their suicidal thoughts with their family, peers, and/or spouses.

The stigma negatively affects treatment outcomes:

The "perceived stigma can affect feelings of shame and can lead to poorer treatment outcomes" (Psychology Today).

The stigma negatively affects the perception of self and others:

Those with depression and schizophrenia were viewed as unpredictable and dangerous, and those people would be less likely to be employed.


What are the different ways to challenge the stigma?

Participate in a campaign that challenges the stigma:

Participate in discussions and events between individuals with and without mental problems. This will help improve attitudes, increase future willingness to help, and promote behaviors associated with anti-stigma engagement.


  • Accept differences
  • Enable people to believe their own experiences, and not rely on stereotypes
  • Medicalizing suicide may be partly useful, but the issue needs to extend beyond disease models
  • Start from what people know, not what you think they know



Be Aware of the Warning Signs

The longer the signs last, the more serious they are, and the more they interfere with daily life, the greater chance that professional treatment is needed.


  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself (ex: buying a gun)
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live





  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol/drugs
  • Acting anxious/agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings


If the person needs immediate help

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Call Public Safety 206-296-5911 (24-hours/day) or 9-1-1 or the King County Crisis Connections at 206-461-3222 or 866-4CRISIS
  • If not on-campus, the 988 Lifelife is available nationally at 988
  • Remove any drugs, alcohol, firearms, and sharp objects
  • Take the person to a medical/mental health professional
  • Never keep talk about suicide a secret


If you are concerned, ask the question.


"It sounds like things are really rough right now, and I am concerned about you. Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

(or) "Have you ever thought about dying by suicide?"

(or) "Do have you have thoughts of suicide?​"


Crisis Lines and Hotlines

  • Call 9-1-1 for Emergency Services
  • Campus Public Safety Emergency Line: 206-296-5911
  • King County Crisis Connections - 206.461.3222 or 866.4CRISIS (866-427-4747)
  • The 988 Lifeline - 988 (available nationally)
  • Ulifeline -  Text START to 741-741
  • Trans Lifeline - 1-877-565-8860 
  • LGBTQ lifeline; Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386
  • Pride Hotline - Mental health and addiction hotline for LGBTQ individuals - 888-616-5031
  • Mental Health Crisis Hotline - 988
  • Crisis Connections - 866-427-4747 

Nearest Emergency Departments

On Campus Resources

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) - professional team of licensed clinicians provide confidential individual and group psychotherapy for students and referral services for those requiring specialized or on-going care. These services are provided free of charge to students currently enrolled.
  • Public Safety - offers 24-Hour Emergency Line:  (206) 296-5911
  • Campus Ministry - Regardless of one’s faith background, Campus Ministry offers a chance for individual exploration in a one-on-one confidential setting with a Campus Minister experienced in the art of assisting others with personal and spiritual growth.
  • Student Health Center - offers on-campus healthcare.
  • Health and Wellness Crew (HAWC) -  is made up of student volunteers who are trained as certified peer health educators. HAWC is here for you as peers to answer questions, offer support, provide resources.