Bias and Denial in Psychology: Missing the Signs of Suicide

If you are a friend, a family member or a therapist, the knee-jerk reaction to the above statements would be to counter them with: “Oh come on, you know that you’re not stupid.” Or “Just look at the positive side of things…You have come this far so don’t give up now! You’re better than that!”

Our tendency, because of our cultural bias would be to quickly problem-solve and to make the individual stronger and more independent. We would miss the signs and “normalize” the individual.

However, there is a great deal of meaning behind those words when the person is already in a dark mood and we need to consider the messages that he or she is conveying:

  • The future looks threatening
  • He or she is predicting disaster
  • He or she is isolating for self-protection
  • The focus is on the negative, bad and useless self
  • Others are seen as agreeing with this negative perception of “self”
  • There is anxiety (fear) about future social interactions

There is a great deal of information that we or other individuals don’t wish to hear and it goes against the flow, the current of our cultural, conformist ways of thinking and responding. This is our challenge–to breach the barriers and connect with the individual on his or her terms.

People reach out in various ways of which we need to take advantage.

Social media has become useful for identifying potentially suicidal individuals and hot-line workers use the linguistic clues.

In the study, “Grief-Stricken in a crowd; The Language of Bereavement and Distress in Social Media” from the School of Information and Computer Sciences UCLA, the writers in severe emotional distress used self-references that indicated a degree of social isolation and not reaching out for support from others.

People who have survived suicide tell us that they are glad to be alive and most of them never attempt it again. People who have reached out in time inform us that  having one person really listen to them was the  key to their survival and recovery.  Can we ask ourselves the following questions?

Do we need to go through a transforming paradigm shift in beliefs in order to reflect back to a distressed person that the future is not static, that things change?

Can we listen attentively and non judgmentally to extremely negative expressions of feelings and thoughts?

Are we able to remain balanced emotionally and not jump into problem solving when a distressed person contacts us?


Depressed man photo available from Shutterstock

Bias and Denial in Psychology: Missing the Signs of Suicide

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). Bias and Denial in Psychology: Missing the Signs of Suicide. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 15, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 9 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Aug 2015
Published on All rights reserved.