Not difficult to get it right when reporting suicides

6 Nov, 2015

Judi colour full resA note from our chief executive

A recent article in the Wairarapa Times-Age (Difficult to get it right reporting on suicides, Wednesday 4 November 2015) contained some disturbing ideas about suicide and suicide prevention that I would like to respond to.

Suicide is not a “decision of… extreme selfishness,” but most often comes from feelings of isolation and being a burden to others, from which there seems to be no end in sight. Reading unsympathetic comments such as this do nothing to dispel this view, and it is potentially harmful to characterise the very real feelings of people who struggle with suicidal thoughts as “selfish”. It is one of the key misconceptions about suicide that we need to work hard to counter, as it can discourage people who are struggling from reaching out for help.

Families who react with anger to media reporting on the devastating loss of their loved one to suicide are not “transferring anger from the death to the paper.” Few bereaved families want their personal grief broadcast by the media. Given the levels of distress they experience, airing their private grief shows a marked lack of compassion and respect.

Debate on the issue of suicide and suicide prevention often perpetuates the myth that government agencies and mental health workers are working actively to curb discussion about suicide. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation, alongside numerous other organisations, is actively involved in talking about how to prevent suicide in communities all around New Zealand in line with the Government’s National Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

Every death by suicide has a profound impact, reaching beyond the immediate circle of an individual to touch families, whanau, friends and colleagues in the wider community.

We need to talk about suicide prevention, about what helps us to cope when we feel hopeless or confused, and share this knowledge with friends, family and our wider communities. We can work to educate and encourage others to respond appropriately to risky situations and keep whanau and individuals safe.

Media do have an invaluable role to play in preventing suicide  by helping to raise awareness of how to prevent suicide. The enquiries we receive suggest that there is great public interest in learning about how to support others who are going through difficult times, in finding out the warning signs of suicide and what to do when they are identified. Providing readers with this kind of information can decrease risk and increase understanding. Similarly, covering real stories of people who work through difficult times can generate optimism and hope.

Judi Clements
Chief Executive
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand