In her last article in this column, International Patron of World Mental Health Day 2020, Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan touched on the importance of decriminalising attempted suicide.
It was also stressed that most cases have an underlying severe psychological distress.
Between the publication of that article and the submission of this one, I recall at least five tragic cases of alleged suicide that made sensational news
It was more prominent on social media.
In my first article here, I am prompted to highlight the subject of media portrayal of suicide.
I must say, in general, that the mainstream media acted responsibly when reporting those cases.
Only a few media sources had to be persuaded to take down a particularly troubling photograph. Social media, however, went sensational.
First, it was a gruesome video of a dying man covered in blood, and a bystander trying to resuscitate the victim.
Then, there was another far more disturbing image doing its rounds repeatedly.
It was the body of a dead man prominently visible to passing motorists on a busy highway.
Many who chanced upon the news item or had the picture forwarded to them were shaken while some were significantly traumatised by the image.
How we talk about and report on suicide, matters.
For someone already considering suicide, it is possible to change their thoughts into action by exposing them to detailed suicide related content, including graphic depictions and explanations of the event, or revealing the method used.
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Sensational headlines on suicide and reporting could lead to vulnerable individuals getting convinced that the method chosen is easy and that it works.
Two days after the media went into detailed reporting of famous designer Kate Spade’s death, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain ended his life in the same way.
So, there is such a thing as “copycat” suicide.
Suicidal behaviour is complex.
We need to refrain from simplifying or speculating the causes of individual suicide.
Attributing it to specific experiences such as the victim struggling to make ends meet may not be entirely true.
Some who may be battling their existing mental illness are suddenly triggered to end it all.
It may well be due to current changes in circumstances having an impact on their mental health.
How then should suicide be reported?
The answer is simply to be guided by the mindset that it is better to inform rather than sensationalise the reporting.
Providing information on suicide prevention should be mandatory in all media articles.
Ask yourself this question: “Will this report help my readers know how to help themselves or their loved ones?”
Media has a big role to play in the arena of suicide prevention.
Inserting information on common warning signs and myths about suicide when reporting on such deaths, may prevent the loss of another precious life.
Quotes from suicide prevention experts should take precedence over that of bystanders or onlookers.
It is best not to report the exact location of the attempt, particularly if it also suggests the method that was used.
When vulnerable people hear about a location or a method of suicide, they can then form the intention to use that same location and method to take their own lives.
The designation of tourist attractions in many parts of the world as “suicide points” is truly unfortunate as it only encourages susceptible individuals to end their fate there.
The newsworthiness of deaths by suicide needs to be weighed, especially when the person who has died is young.
When a case is carelessly reported, other young people in distress shy away from seeking help.
Ultimately, the main message of any article, video or discussion about suicide should be to encourage people to get help when they need it.
They should also be directed to look for help by including accessible helpline numbers of organisations such as Befrienders Malaysia, Malaysian Mental Health Association and other crisis services.
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For avid social media users, my advice is for them to be respectful of bereaved families and friends.
The grieving family can also be at risk of being suicidal, being in such a vulnerable situation.
When reporting on suicide on websites and social media, it is prudent to carefully moderate comments or close down comment sections if needed.
Certain comments may inadvertently suggest to vulnerable people that suicide is a viable solution to the very real pain and distress they are experiencing.
We live in an era where we seem to have a natural tendency to document everything and feel it is right to share it with others.
Before we decide to record anything and everything, it is good to ask ourselves what is the purpose of recording this event or posting a particular image.
It is good to consider the impact of our actions on the lives of others particularly on those who are vulnerable.
Ponder on the potential benefit and harm on others instead of just wanting to be the first to break the news.
Part of the issue stems from the fact that we have lost our ability to think critically because everything is “live thinking” in the here and now, and not of the future consequences.
Media reporting does not necessarily have to mean tip-toeing around the issue.
Conveying it with sensitivity and care may save lives.
So, let us all do our part to encourage a safer and empathetic space online.
Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj is the President of Malaysian Mental Health Association and Policy Advisor for Green Ribbon Group Malaysia. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.