Suicide cases: reporting carefully
AS a Pakistani British psychiatrist living in the UK, it is deeply shocking to hear media reports of at least four suicides by young boys recently in different parts of the country.
These disturbing developments are likely to have a devastating and emotionally painful impact on the parents of the young people, their teachers and friends for the rest of their lives.
While our hearts and minds go for the families of those who have lost their children, it is deeply important to look at the adverse consequences of the way these traumatic incidents are reported in the media.
It is worth quoting a string of suicide incidents reported from Bridgend in South Wales, UK, from 2007 onwards. Many of the victims were teenagers between the ages of 13 to 17. As of February 2012, there have been 79 known deaths reported.
Some of the parents of the dead accused the media of sensationalising how young people take their lives. Similar concerns were raised by politicians and mental health professionals.
In Pakistan, a large section of the electronic and print media is still not following the internationally agreed rules for reporting such incidents. We still see the tendency to sensationalise, glamourise and glorify the act of suicide.
I would like to refer to the media guidance produced by the International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) and the World Health Organisation in 2008 for reporting such incidents.
The salient features include: avoiding language which sensationalises or normalises suicide or presents it as a solution to problems. There should not be prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide.
There should be no explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide and detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide. The media should be careful in giving headlines.
The guidance also recommends the media to take on the responsibility to educate the public about suicide. We also need to do a lot of soul – searching to look at the root causes behind the unfortunate incidents which indicate the state of collective mental health of the nation and require placing suicide prevention high on national agenda.
I also believe that most of these incidents involving young people in their teens could have been avoided by sensible handling by the parents or teachers involved.
However, our media needs to be collectively more accountable in appraising its role in reporting such incidents and to demonstrate its role in suicide prevention by shaping and adhering to its own code of conduct and practice in accordance with internationally- agreed conventions.
DR SAFIULLAH AFGHAN