Taboo subject: suicide

People who want to commit suicide cannot be helped. Those who report suicidal thoughts do not take action. Talking about the subject increases the risk. Once suicidal thoughts, always suicidal thoughts. These are just a few of the myths that circulate around suicide. And because the subject is so complex and uncomfortable, it receives far too little attention in our society and leads to great helplessness when someone is affected.

Why do we talk about suicide instead of suicide?

There has been a lively discussion for years. Although both terms mean the deliberate ending of one’s own life, they resonate with different meanings. For example, the term suicide is often perceived as hurtful by those affected, relatives and surviving dependents, since a person who puts an end to his or her life is not committing a criminal act and does not want to die of his or her own free will. For this reason, suicide describes more sensitively that affected persons in an acute crisis see no other way out to end their suffering.

Suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior

In addition to a sensitive handling of the terminology, it is important to differentiate between active and passive suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior:Passive suicidal thoughts: These include thoughts about one’s own death without a serious intention to end one’s life. In the imagination, affected persons may, for example, suffer from a fatal disease, be involved in an accident or simply not wake up one morning.Active su icidal thoughts: In the context of active thoughts to end one’s own life, specific actions and plans are already being thought through.Suicidal behavior: Suicidal behavior includes talking about suicidal thoughts as well as actions related to ending one’s life, such as self-injurious behavior or suicide attempts. It becomes clear that there are different stages with which the level of suffering and the danger to life increase. For this reason, it is very important to pay attention to even passive suicidal thoughts. Relatives should also be vigilant in the case of self-injurious behavior without an additional expression of suicidal thoughts, because it may well be that the affected person sees no other way to draw attention to their distress.

Numbers – Data – Facts

The relevance of dealing with the topic of suicide becomes even clearer when looking at the data. In current reports, the Federal Statistical Office speaks of 9206 people who committed suicide in 2020. By comparison, around 3000 people died in road traffic in the same year, 1500 from drug abuse and 270 from AIDS. The reported average age was 59, and at 75 percent, there was a significantly higher rate of male involvement. The most common methods used were suffocation, strangulation and hanging. In general, people who have already attempted suicide are reported to be at significantly higher risk of doing it again. In addition, almost half of all those affected sought help from a doctor less than a month beforehand. This fact again makes clear how important it is to take suicidal thoughts seriously and how much help can be provided if sufficient education about the subject is available.

Why it can get this far

In order to prevent suicides, it is of great importance to understand the background. There are two major groups of risk factors:

Mental illness

This affects 90 percent of people who die by suicide. Depression is the most common, followed by addiction and schizophrenia.

External factors

  • Chronic diseases
  • Losses
  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Conflicts
  • Loneliness
  • Unemployment
  • Debts

But beware. Only a single external event or a brief depressive episode does not lead directly to suicide. It always depends individually on how many resources a person has and how high the level of support is to be able to cope with difficulties. In principle, anyone can get into such a crisis under certain circumstances, in which everything seems hopeless.

Warning signals and quick help

Now that we know what can trigger a suicide, here is a brief summary of warning signals and assistance that can help relatives in particular to recognize suicidal intentions and prevent an attempt.

Warning signals

  • Strong hopelessness
    Statements such as “It all makes no sense anymore…”, “Now something must finally happen…” or “It must come to an end now!”
  • Expressions of suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behavior
    Here it is particularly important to emphasize that addressing such thoughts may very well result in an action!
  • Putting things in order
    These include giving away valuables, writing a will, or saying goodbye to loved ones. Sufferers may also suddenly appear more calm and balanced shortly before their suicide, giving the impression that they are feeling better again.


  • Reach out and be thereIt is a myth that talking matter-of-factly with a suicidal person can make the situation worse and even be energizing. Many sufferers have a great need to be seen and to be able to express their thoughts. A conversation can convey the feeling of not being alone in this supposedly hopeless situation and give new hope.
  • Professional supportRegardless of whether “only” passive suicidal thoughts have existed up to now or whether a suicide attempt has already taken place, support should always be sought from a psychotherapist, psychiatrist or in the context of an inpatient hospital stay.
  • Taking responsibilityEspecially in acute situations, it is often difficult for those affected to seek help because of feelings of shame and guilt. A conversation is usually no longer possible at this point and calling an emergency doctor is advisable. It is important under no circumstances to leave the affected person alone and to buy time, since the desire for death is usually only temporary.

In urgent cases, be sure to dial 112 directly! You can also obtain anonymous and free support around the clock from the telephone counselling service on 0800/111 0 111 and 0800/111 0 222.

  • Schneider, Barbara: Risk factors for suicide. Regensburg, 2003.
  • Federal Statistical Office:, accessed on 18.11.2022.
  • TelefonSeelsorge Deutschland e.V.:, accessed on 18.11.2022.
  • Wolfersdorf, Manfred ; Etzersdorfer, Elmar: Suicide and suicide prevention. Stuttgart, 2011.
Verena Klein
Author Verena Klein
"LIMES Schlosskliniken specializes in the treatment of mental and psychosomatic illnesses. With the help of the blog, we as a clinic group would like to examine the various mental illnesses in more detail and present different therapies as well as current topics."

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