Google ‘how to commit suicide’ or ‘ways to commit suicide’ and the first thing that pops up is a helpline box with contact details of a crisis intervention/suicide prevention center. Suicide is one of the major causes of death globally. The World Health Organization statistics mention close to 8,00,000 deaths due to suicide every year across the globe and it is estimated that at least six people who are related to the victim are directly affected by each suicide death. In the US alone, suicide accounts for 50 per cent of violent deaths in men and an astonishing 71 per cent of violent deaths in women. The stats come up to a staggering rate of one death per 40 secs!
The World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 every year and WHO along with International Association of Suicide Prevention, has published a guide titled Preventing suicide: a resource for media professionals. A webinar for media professionals from all around the world was held earlier this week to highlight the concern of responsible reporting. The speakers in the webinar were Dr Alexandra Fleishmann, Scientist, Dept of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO and an expert on suicide and suicide prevention, and Dr Dan Reidenberg, MD, National Council for Suicide Prevention, USA.
Giving an introduction into the topic, Dr Fleishmann said that behind every ‘successful’ suicide, there are 20 others who made an attempt. The number is quite high, making suicide the second leading cause of death among the age group of 15-29-year-olds.
A part of their study has highlighted the need for responsible reporting by the media to curb the suicide rate. WHO has identified media reporting as a priority prevention strategy.
Dr Reidenbeg presented the recommendations on responsible journalism. According to him, there are different standards and guidelines for journalists and media agencies on how they should conduct their work. The basic principles include being free of obligation to any particular party or interest, seeking the truth and reporting it with honesty.
Suicide contagion is real. There have been reports that show an increase in suicide rates depending on how the media treats the matter. The frequency of suicide reports, placement of the report on the page, the language that is used to make sensational headlines, or disturbing graphics has a negative impact on the overall public health. Studies show that there is usually a spike in suicides surrounding celebrity deaths, the most notable example being that of Marilyn Monroe as there was a 12 per cent increase in the suicide rates following her death.
Impact of social media
There is faster communication due to social media which helps in creating awareness about certain things or issues which need to be highlighted, says Reidenberg. The negative impact he points out is that there is no control and a high scope for misinterpretation about facts and inaccurate news being spread.
How must you talk about suicide
Reidenberg suggests a few guidelines for the journalists to follow while reporting on suicides. But these can be implemented in the way general public talks about suicide too. You must be careful not to have unknowingly encouraged it or trivialised the issue while talking to someone who is suicidal. Here are some pointers:
Avoid an overly simplistic explanation: Suicide is very complex and in very few circumstances can be attributed to a single cause. Generalising it to common life events like job loss or divorce should be avoided.
Avoid saying the reason for suicide is inexplicable: There is always a reason for a person to commit suicide. Describing the suicide as having no cause, it may lead to believe that you don’t need a reason to commit suicide.
Include warning signs: Most people exhibit some or the other warning signs before committing suicide. Include these suicide warning signs in the article so people can read these signs and get help.
Avoid glorifying or romanticising suicide: Suicide is not heroic, romantic or an honourable act. Reporting so might lead the young or vulnerable people to commit it. Suicide is not a crime but an important public health problem. People should get help rather than give up. Share helpline numbers or local treatment centre details for people to contact if they need help.
Avoid giving in-depth details: Mentioning the exact method or location of the suicide may lead to copycat suicides. Providing the details of the location might turn it in to a tourist spot affecting the family and people living near it.
Avoid harmful graphics or suicide notes: Visuals make the most impact. Sharing photos or graphics of the method on social media is reported to have a negative impact on the vulnerable minds. Only 20–25 per cent people who commit suicide leave a note. Notes may describe personal incidents with which a vulnerable mind might identify with, and this can lead to a negative impact.