Monday, August 1, 2011

Progressive new standards in suicide reporting

Everyone in Melbourne knew the West Gate Bridge was a hot spot for suicide.

Strangely, almost eerily, you never heard anything reported about it though, despite the fact, I once was told, that people jumping off the bridge was a weekly occurrence (hearsay: citation needed). This attempt to brush the issue under the carpet may well have been well intentioned, with the aim of avoiding the promotion of self-harm to susceptible individuals, but was severely lacking in understanding of the general issue of mental health.

Someone who is in the mindset where they are contemplating self-harm is dealing with thoughts and feelings the majority of us can barely comprehend. It is not a flippant decision, inspired by a newspaper report or Emo song.

Overlooking these all too common tragedies does nothing to prevent them. Neither might I add does the installation of ‘suicide-proof’ barriers on the bridge, as if that is the only option for someone in a suicidal state of mind – or the ‘cool’ option – and they’ll change their mind and get it together if they can’t jump.

Thanks to the great work of several organisations, who have worked hard to bring the issue to light, rather than hide it away, according to today’s laudable Australian editorial there was “35 per cent reduction in the suicide rate between 1999 and 2009”. However, “2000 Australians a year choose to end their lives”.

The Australian Press Council has now issued new standards that take a more enlightened approach, acknowledging that in some cases reporting may “help to improve public understanding of causes and warning signs, have a deterrent effect on people contemplating suicide, bring comfort to affected relatives or friends, or promote further public or private action to prevent suicide.”

Instead of encouraging the media not report on suicides, they will be encouraged to report – “there should not be a taboo on reporting of this kind”. Hear hear.

After all, we can accept its portrayal in movies and literature, often based on true events, so why can’t we discuss the everyday tragedies?

The media do need to be sensitive when reporting individual issues, and I hope The Australian stands by the standards its editorial outlines, but we will only enhance understanding of the various forms of mental illness by discussing it openly and honestly – to help the wider public understand why someone acts a certain way, and to help individuals who are battling personal issues understand that they are not alone; there is help available and they can get better.

Avoiding the issue only creates isolation for those in need of support.

As someone who found himself in the dark depths of isolation once or twice in his life, not seriously contemplating but certainly thinking a lot about suicide, I believe this is a step in the right direction.

Let’s open up the discussion, and fuck off the stigma of mental illness once and for all!

ps. coincidentally, a friend brought this heartbreaking story to my attention recently. Precisely the kind of outcome we want to avoid in future, and that takes understanding from all. It's 'depressing' but it's real, and with action and inspiration we can turn such potential tragedies into stories of hope.

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