Reporting suicide cases: The tragedy of the dying and insensitivity media

Source: Ghana | Eugenia Ntekor | eugenia.ntekor@googlemail.com
Date: 17th-march-2017 Time:  6:57:45 pm

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The past few weeks have seen a lot of media reportage on suicides in Ghana. It started with a KNUST student committing sucide, University of Ghana student allegedly jumping from a his 4th floor hall of residents, a 16-year-old junior high student hanging herself, a driver hanging himself, and a woman reportedly hanging herself near a clinic in the Eastern Region.

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide among vulnerable individuals. These studies have shown that the way media cover suicide victims can influence the behaviour of others both negatively or positively. It might either encourage or discourage possible suicide victims to seek help if there are any resources available.

In the case of Ghana, resources are not available and therefore the behaviour of possible vicitms is influenced negatively the more.

There are risks when media stories explicitly describe suicide methods as well as dramatising headlines. Research shows that when this occurs, there is the likelihood of suicide contagion affecting members of the society (copycat suicides). Inappropriate reporting of suicide is leading to imitative or imitational behaviours and that is contributing to other suicides.

The media is not helping by showing explicit photos of people who have committed suicide. This sensationalisation of suicides must stop as it is not helping the vulnerable who are already contemplating about suicide.

The most interesting thing I have seen on social media is a childlike drawing of a man hanging himself with the inscription that: ‘suicide is not an option.’ Who is this meant for? Children or adults? And are we viewing the recent spate of suicides as a public health issue? Are we weighing the benefits of these images against the justification of public interest or do we see this as another way to make money?

Whatever your answers are to these questions, can we please note the following ‘dos and don'ts’ I designed following my observation of media reportage recently:

  • Do not place suicide stories on the cover page of newspapers since it is distressing and insensitive. Think about their family members.
  • Do not portray suicides as heroic.
  • Do not say ‘suicide ends in pain.’ People need to be alive to feel free from pain.
  • Do not show images of people hanging on ropes because it's also distressing and insensitive. Please avoid dramatic emotional images and footage.
  • Be sensitive to words that you use in your stories such as ‘She suffered a broken heart.’
  • Do not report content of a suicide note.
  • The term committed suicide is not accurate. People commit crime. Suicide is not a crime. ’Died by suicide’ or ‘completed suicide’ may be more appropriate.
  • Do not use ‘successful suicide.’ It is extremely insensitive to label suicide as ‘successful.’
  • Do not use ‘epidemic’ in suicide. It is rising. Use ‘rise’.

It is worth noting that the number one cause of the 90% suicide cases is clinical depression or similarly mental illness which lead people to die.

Research has also shown that many people who die through suicide have an underlying psychiatric disorder such as depressive symptoms linked to the feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. We all get downcasted at times but it is different from depression.

Depression is characterized by deep feeling of desperation, and despondency, overwhelmed by life’s situation and suicide thoughts. It causes symptoms of  loss of interest and despair that interferes with a person’s life. A number of things could determine how vulnerable a person is and these include:

  • Life history- Traumatic experiences, sexual or physical abuse, parental neglect etc.
  • Serious mental ill health- such as schizophrenia.
  • Lifestyle- drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Employment- Poor job security, money problems.
  • Relationships- isolation, significant break-ups, death.
  • Family history- history of suicides in family.
  • Stressful events- May push a person to the edge.

And finally, let us offer suicide prevention information and give people who are possible suicide victims the resources they need to stay alive.

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Writer: Eugenia Ntekor

Email: eugenia.ntekor@googlemail.com

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