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Here’s Why Sensitive Topics Like Suicide NEED To Be Reported With More Care

It’s sensitive but something we do need to discuss!
LEE, Jolene Chern Yi
15 Aug 2022, 11:00 AM
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This article is sponsored by Content Forum.

Woman scrolling news on smartphone

Images via jcomp/Freepik; Edited by HITZ

The past couple of years have been really tough on the world in so many ways.

Being stuck at home, not being able to see loved ones, some losing their jobs and suffering financially, and the fear of catching a deadly contagious disease can really take a toll on our minds.

On top of that, reading about the daily number of deaths wasn’t exactly helping either. Many people were left hopeless, with some choosing to take their own lives.

However, something inspirational came out of all that negative news. Learning about the dire situations some of their fellow Malaysians were in, a bunch of people came together to initiate a nationwide ‘white flag’ movement to help those in need.

Unfortunately, these ‘silver linings’ don’t happen all the time. In fact, if we’re not careful about it, the articles and social media posts about suicide that we put up could lead to more cases…

Statistics show suicide rates increase right after a suicide news report

Research has shown that when news breaks out about someone ‘unaliving’ themselves—especially if they’re celebrities—there’s a 13% increase in the risk of suicide cases. Worst of all, 30% of the suicide cases end up mimicking the way said celebrity chose to end their lives!

With some litigious tabloid news sites choosing to ‘leak’ the exact details of a celebrity’s chosen method, avid fans or those who were already suicidal at that time, may take inspiration and follow suit.

“There is a serious implication in sharing detailed methods and narratives of how suicide happens as it can become instructive to a vulnerable individual. In the same vein, sharing help-seeking resources will be that glimmer of hope for someone who needs that helping hand,” said Dr Ravivarma Panirselvam, Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, Hospital Miri.

Therefore, the ethical reporting of suicide by the media (and the public) can play an active role in changing perception and avoiding suicide contagion while creating a heightened awareness of this dire issue.

There’s a guideline created by the Content Forum on sharing sensitive topics!

In this regard, the Communications and Multimedia Content Forum of Malaysia (the Content Forum) believes that all suicide-related content must be reported and shared ethically and responsibly based on available best practices and media guidelines, such as the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s (MOH) Guidelines for Media Reporting on Suicide 2011.

Aside from promoting responsible reporting on suicide by the media, these guidelines are also aimed at reducing the prevalence of suicide in Malaysia, particularly the issue of imitation suicide, which is increasingly becoming an equally alarming issue.

“We understand that there are many out there who may not be aware of what constitutes ethical reporting of suicide cases, and the Content Forum is committed to heightening awareness of the same.”

“Media professionals have been quite accommodating whenever we approach them to highlight aspects of their reporting that go against best practices, and they revise their content accordingly.”

“This form of self-regulation is highly encouraged not just among media professionals but also content creators, and the general public,” said Content Forum Executive Director Mediha Mahmood.

If you’re interested, the full guideline can be found on MOH's website or you can visit the Content Forum website for more info.

What can you do to help lessen the circulation of triggering content?

In this era where anything can easily go viral, people seem to prefer more sensationalised reporting. However, it’s important to understand that covering this topic responsibly will not only help grieving families but also reduce the risk of suicide contagion.

Norman Goh, former independent journalist and mental health advocate said, “Suicide-related stories are of public interest and the media have a role to safely and responsibly report such stories.”

“They should use the opportunity to allay any stigma on mental health and create better awareness in the society to be kinder towards people in need of help.”

So, if you see a suicide-related post, instead of instantly clicking that share button or commenting thoughtlessly, take a good read and make sure the content isn’t an over-sensationalised or insensitive report.

How can you change the tone of suicide-related articles and social media posts?

Well, you can’t exactly change somebody else’s article or social media post, but you can help change the way the topic is being discussed.

“I believe reporting, when done safely, facilitates important conversations on mental health and how to get appropriate care and treatment.”

“Providing helplines are helpful, but what is far more important, is to have more news articles with an overall emphasis on encouraging adaptive coping and help-seeking in looking after one’s mental health," commented Dr Ng Yin Ping, Consultant Psychiatrist, Pantai Hospital Penang and Vice-chair of i-Life Suicide Prevention Association of Penang.

YOU can also control the media’s content

Unless you’re a journalist working at that specific company, you can’t stop a media house from writing crassly about such sensitive topics. However, you as the reader have the power to either share it and make it ‘viral’ or ignore it.

In fact, you can even report the post to the social media platform’s governing body if it’s not written according to the Content Forum code!

You as the reader have control over what type of media you consume as well. So, choose the platforms you follow wisely and stay safe, fam.

If you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, here’s how you can ask for help

For emotional support, you can contact the Befrienders Suicide Helpline at 603-76272929.

Your life is precious and it’s okay to seek help.

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