Most Suicidal People are Not Mentally Ill

Because suicidal behavior isn’t seen as normal or healthy, many people mistakenly believe that suicidal people must be “crazy.” They lump suicidal people together with those who are severely mentally ill. Some even think that suicidal people are dangerous to others as well as to themselves.

Suicidal people can behave in a “crazy” or “sick” way, but their behavior doesn’t necessarily spring from a diagnosed mental illness. Instead, their actions and thoughts spring from something that’s gone wrong in their lives. Also, most suicidal people are not dangerous to others. They may be angry, but their anger is directed at themselves.

– from The Power to Prevent Suicide: A Guide for Teens Helping Teens by Richard E Nelson and Judith C Galas

Since the suicide of Barry I have had many people say to me…

“He must have been sick.”

“He must of had bad depression.”

And my reply is always, “No, he was a healthy, happy teenager who, at the time, thought he had no other options.” I lived with Barry for 18 years. I know he didn’t suffer from depression. Of course he had days when he felt depressed, but don’t we all. Feeling depressed is a normality in life. He had dyslexia which he had hidden from his teachers for his entire school life, but he managed to finish high school. His parents were divorced, but that made him fit in with most of the other kids in school – it certainly didn’t set him apart. He was popular and had lots of friends – of both sexes. He loved comedies and enjoyed seeing people laugh and would often do and/or say things for that reaction. Everything about Barry was just how it should have been because he was a normal teenager.

Never assume that because someone has taken their own life it means they had mental problems. Yes, sometimes it might be true, but sometimes a person feels suicidal simply because they have broken up with a girlfriend and it feels that life will never be the same again. Most of us work through those feelings and soon realise that the love they felt for that person can be felt for another. It’s only a matter of time.

To say to a parent of a child who suicided that their child must have been “sick” is the biggest insult you can dish out. It’s cruel to say such a thing and do you blame me for getting angry every time the words are said to me? OK, for some the statement might be correct, for me the statement is so far from the truth it’s not funny. Barry wasn’t sick. He was confused. His family knows that had he given himself time – and I’m talking a few months only – then he would have gotten over the feelings he had for the girl. What’s more, he might have found someone who would have loved him with all her being. He would have been happy again. I know that without a doubt. Just like I know that Barry was no more sick in the head than any sane person.


3 thoughts on “Most Suicidal People are Not Mentally Ill

  1. rosepetal 17 September 2007 / 12:28 am

    I suppose some people say that because they want to convince you that had Barry been in his right mind, he would not have done it. That your love and the love of this family was a strong enough link to keep him here and it’s only because he “wasn’t well” that he couldn’t see it.

    Having gone through a few months of suicidal thoughts myself this summer, I can see that Barry became temporarily overwhelmed with life and lost perspective. I so wish he had waited those few extra months. I’m glad I did.


  2. Karen 20 September 2007 / 9:55 am

    I know these people don’t mean anything bad by their words. In fact, I know they simply don’t know what to say. I do make allowances for that, but I don’t like hearing people make Barry sound as if he was mentally ill. He was lost and desperate.

    I’m glad you waited too, Rosepetal. In reality, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I know it can go either way, but it should be worth the wait to find out…should be.

  3. Bob 1 October 2014 / 6:11 am

    People say that because they need to believe that the suicidal person wasn’t seeing things properly, when in fact it is the person saying that who is denying reality–the suicidal person is in his/her right mind. The survivors *need* reality to be okay and not awful through and through, so they need the suicide to have been sick and thinking wrong.

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