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The Myths Surrounding Suicide: National Expert Comes to NH

October 31, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. - About 100 people die by suicide every day in the United States. We need to do better than that, says Thomas Joiner, a national expert on the subject who will be the keynote speaker at a statewide conference on suicide prevention in New Hampshire this week.

Joiner says questioning why people die by suicide is something that needs to be asked more frequently in order to prevent the tragedy, which he calls a major public health issue. While progress has been made, he points to quite a few problems remaining.

"Two main barriers are access to good, quality mental health care - it's just not as free and easy as it should be, in a country like ours. A second major barrier is stigma: The conditions along with suicidal behavior are still very stigmatized."

Joiner, the Robert O. Lanton Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, calls the stigma surrounding mental health issues an "appalling problem." He likens it to stigmatizing someone for having heart disease or cancer.

Another hurdle to get over in order to better understand suicide, he says, is the myths surrounding it. Two of the biggest are that it's a cowardly or selfish act. He says the act itself, while not laudable, requires a kind of fearlessness. And while many of those left behind label the act as selfish, he says this is not so.

"In the moments before their death, they're actually thinking something quite different. They are thinking along the lines of 'I'll make everybody better off; this will be better for people; my death will be worth more than my life to others.'"

Open, frank, discussions about mental health will go a long way in saving lives, he adds, as will education about resources - such as suicide hotlines like 1-800-273-TALK.

Joiner will speak at the 8th Annual State Suicide Prevention Conference, "Healing, Hope, Health," on Friday, Nov. 4. The conference will be held at SERESC Conference Center, Bedford, N.H., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH