Reporting on Suicide

This morning the front page of the Metro (which you really can’t avoid as a Londoner, it’s everywhere) had a lurid spread on how Robin Williams killed himself and why. I didn’t bother to read it but the headline jumped out at you. I admit, I was curious. But I didn’t because I feel like it’s none of my business. He’s gone; that is such a tragedy for all who knew and loved him, and a lurid expose that’s not aimed at helping anyone else in a similarly desperate situation is not worth it.

I was going to write something about the reporting when I saw, via Twitter (of course) the best blog on this, by a writer called Mary Hamilton. I think she said it all. An extract:

“Let’s be clear, this is not a hypothetical danger: a review of almost 100 studies worldwide has found a strong, coherent and consistent association between certain types of media reporting and increased risk of suicide in vulnerable people, and the Bridgend suicides should be known by every UK journalist as an example of how the media can make things worse.

This is happening in the UK, where funding is being stripped from already-stretched mental health services at the same time as punitive welfare policies strip money from the poorest and force severely unwell people to attempt to work despite disabilities that make it impossible for them to do so safely. A population that is already incredibly vulnerable is being made more so by lack of access to treatment and to funds. The UK is currently in the grip of an acute mental health crisis. This context is important.”

And further to that context, according to the Office of National Statistics, the leading cause of death for 20-34 year olds is suicide and poisoning:

Suicide and injury/poisoning of undetermined intent were the leading cause of death for 20-34 year olds, for 26% of men and 13% of women. Factors that could lead to these deaths include: traumatic experiences, lifestyle choices such as drug or alcohol misuse, job insecurity and relationship problems. “

We need responsible reporting about suicide that follows the best practice outlined by the Samaritans. However, we also need to address the root causes and ensure that those who need the extra support can access it swiftly.

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