Through the work I’ve been doing with RUOK Day, I was lucky enough to put in touch with a guy named Marc from the organistaion MindFrame to discuss the implications of talking about suicide and mental health in the media in general, and through my blog in particular.
For those who don’t know, especially those who aren’t Aussies, MindFrame is the peak body in Australia for regulating how, when and why suicides are reported in the press. I had a fairly long, graphic conversation with Marc- there were points there where he forgot he was talking to someone bereaved, adn talked to me like a professional. Which was refreshing to say the least.
I think Marc gave me pretty much a full media briefing, so I won’t go into all of it here.
Just, I guess, the important bits.
There is, really, not a lot of discussion in the Australian media about suicide, and I guess that’s for two reasons. Guidelines don’t exactly discourage it, but they don’t encourage it either. Someone taking their own life has to be incredibly newsworthy for it to be discussed, and with so many guidelines in place….
The lines get blurred and grey. And, I think, it’s just easier not to report it all.
Marc assures me that plenty of suicides are reported in the Austrlain media, and that number is rising. And, since the introduction of the MindFrame guideines in the mid-90′s, the suicide rate is continually dropping.
MindFrame guidelines are just that- guidelines- and they are all evidence based. So, every recommendation- and MindFrame only gives recommendations, it doesn’t so much instruct journalists what to do- is based on numerous studies that support it, rather the opinion of someone or a panel of people.
I think that’s an important distinction to make.
From my conversation with Marc, MindFrame’s guidelines for the reporting of suicide seemed focused on a few things- preventing the contagious effect of copycat suicides, especially when dealing with methods that are easily romanticised or not previously widely published; restricting the meotional impact of people close to the victim, especially in the 48 hours after the victim’s death; and addressing and breaking down stigma that may occur through incorrect use of language. (‘Committed suicide’ is a bad term, because it implies commiting a crime. But attempting suicide is a crim in New South Wales. The use of the word suicide itself is discouraged, with ‘taking one’s own life’ being preferable, for reasons discussed below- glamorisation, and the highlighting effect it can have- for someone with existing suicidal ideations, the word ‘suicide’ will leap off the page at them….)
So… let’s break it down a bit. Most of us have heard of the trend of copycat suicides. It’s, unfortuntely, a very real thing. It’s a danger mostly when the method of suicide is ‘new’- not something a lot of people would think to use; or when it’s in some way romantisiced- usually through the reporting of it in local media, or the way the story spreads through sommuntities and small towns. The scary thing here is the suicide rates in these cases actually increase- people kill themselves using the publicised method who wouldn’t have killed themselves otherwise.
The reporting of sucides also acts as alarm for people who may be suicidal… has anyone in Sydeny wondered why suicides at The Gap are no longer reported in our local media…? Because it might seem like a very good idea at the time, for someone. Someone who may not have had that direct impulse otherwise.
Access to method is such a huge risk factor.
However, in some cases it’s been found that the reporting of a suicide actually decreases, rather than increases the risk of suicide. the page I’ve linked to references the suicide of Kurt Cobain… I can’t help but wonder if maybe this was a flow on effect from the amount of time dedicated to the story, and the basic rhetoric that this was a talented man with a lot to life for… a wasted life who left a lot of pain behind for others.
Even with all that discussion, there is a ‘but’ here…as Marc was quick to point out, all of these studies, all this evidence, it comes from studies of traditional, commercial media.
Social media is a whole new thing, and a whole different ball game.
Traditional media generally looks for grabs and soundbites, a quick, watered down version of a story to fill a sixty second spot. There is no time to show the ramifications of the true after effects of a suicide.. no time to show the broken family left behind, the huge hole that cannot just be filled in with other things, no matter what you may think.
No studies have been done on the impact of discussing suicide in the social media- blogs, Twitter, YouTube- as yet.
So… at the end of all this- and while this is kind of The Dummies Guide To MindFrame, I do hope I got all the salient points across- I asked Marc… what was his recommendation for this place, for RRSAHM… for this ugly post in particular?
And… there are none. MindFrame simply puts the guidelines out there, and it’s the responsibility of the journalist, reporter or blogger to take from them what they will, decide what is newsworthy and in the public interest, and what is possibly detrimental.
The questions Marc asked me, to ask myself, were… Do I really need to use the word hanging, do I need to go into that much detail? And, what’s the effect of this writing on the family concernced?
I’ve thought long and hard about this… not just now, but every day since I published that bloody post.
The effect on the family concernced…? Well. Whatever damage that’s been done, has been done there, I think. And, hey, a large part of the family concernced is me. And this helps more than hurts.
So that leaves us with… is all that detail hurting, or helping?
It’s certainly not romanticised, in any way. There is nothing pretty about it, and it shows quite clearly the pain associated with a suicide… not just for us, but for Tony as well.
I can’t see anything in that post, or anywhere on this blog, that would trigger a suicide, or make it even vaguely appealing. But I have been accused of that, right from the start.
The feedback I get tells me that this blog has the oppisite effect… that people who are thinking of taking their own lives come here, read all this, and reconsider. But then I wonder, do I only receive the positive feedback? Is the negative hidden and unspoken about?
I still have not made up my mind. And I would really like the opinion of my fellow bloggers, readers, Tweeters and the RRSAHM public in general.
Please, feel free to leave a comment telling me what you think on the subject. I’m practising a definite level of emotional detachment, so don’t worry about hurting my feelings.
I’ll blog again soon with a solid desicion, if there is to be one at all.
For the sake of an open and honest discussion, anonymous comments are back on. Let’s keep it clean, folks, be nice, and not abuse the privilege.