Suicide is Not News

Suicides don't belong in the news.

Suicides are sometimes, as Timothy suggests, the last desperate act of a lonely person. However, it's important to know that a lot of people who attempt or commit suicide aren't alone - many have families and friends and doctors who have watched them struggle with severe mental illness, and probably attempt more than once in the past.

This is all the more tragic because someone who has a friend or family member suicide is more likely to do so themselves. These individuals who, as Timothy noted, can barely be bothered to eat, drag themselves to therapy (once they've made their way through the waiting list), try cocktail after cocktail of drug treatments, many of which have unpleasant side effects, and often end up in emergency rooms after unsuccessful attempts, and are then 'observed' for weeks or months. Can you begin to conceive how difficult that is?

Suicide is a profoundly personal act. I suspect if you spoke to someone who frequently felt the desire to die, learned their history, the details of their day to day existence, you would feel nothing so much as sadness for them and relief that you did not experience the same thing.

Suicide isn't news any more than any other mental illness - the statistics are of use in terms of developing better and more accessible social programs. Finding correlations between various events, ages, locations, socio-economic groups and suicide rates can perhaps gradually lead to creating a sufficiently supportive infrastructure capable of preventing the worst instigatory events from happening in the first place, or intervening sooner and more successfully.

The individual stories aren't, frankly, any of your, or my, or anyone else's business.

Yes, there is the danger of copycats, as there is with reporting on student massacres in schools. But more than that, you're talking about someone's life - a life that hurt them so much they preferred death. That isn't a headline.

Would you want an uncle's alcoholism discussed on the news? Perhaps a friend's sister's manic depression? What about the homeless people you sometimes see shouting who are probably schizophrenic? Is that something that needs to come between the weather and the hockey scores? "Man screams at voice no one else hears to 'Shut up' while calling obscenities at passers-by. Story at 11.'

Suicide isn't like a car accident, or a natural disaster. It is the end result of someone incapable of escaping suicidal depression. They are not 'losers' in life's 'game' - they are not members of an inept hockey team. They are people in pain, there is no benefit to reporting on their death. Unlike Katrina, where news coverage instigates donations or government action, where the people suffering are demanding attention; unlike war, where the citizens of the countries involved deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent. Suicide is about one person, one family. One.

The news, be it from the BBC or Global or Fox, is often sensational, often gory. Local news is usually the last bastion of anything one can really think of as 'good news' (local twelve year old raises 8 million for charity). I can tell you that broadly speaking, their stated aim is to educate and inform and act in the public interest (airwaves are considered public property and in order to get and maintain a license one has to prove consistent adherence to the vague standard of 'acting in the public interest'). I have no interest in defending the quality of most news programs and what they omit or include for unethical reason.

Reporting on suicide would be invasive, presumptuous and tacky, unless one had the express permission of the deceased individual's family and focused the report on their experience with the aim of raising awareness about suicidal depression, how to recognize it, how to intervene, and what resources are available for people who are mentally ill. It's a disease, not a news item.

The Distress Centres of Toronto have a 24-hour distress line:
416-408-HELP (4357)
which provides a 24/7 response to those experiencing emotional distress or in need of crisis intervention and suicide prevention. They also have face to face support and counseling to people dealing with the effects of suicide and homicide.

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