Experts highlight how media can report suicide better
News reporting of suicide in Nigeria has increased substantially in recent times; media should help in the prevention by not publicising copycat suicide as it associated with increased numbers of suicides says, experts.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), these experts say reporting appropriate portrayals of suicide are showing negative consequences or alternative consequences. However, they urged that the media could report on preventive effects and empower vulnerable audiences by encouraging help-seeking and normalizing mental health problems.
The notion of copycat suicides developed from research indicating that suicide can be “contagious” and this implies that exposure to suicidal behaviors can influence others to copy these behaviors,” said Maymunah Yusuf Kardiri, medical director and psychiatrists, a chief Pinnacle Medical Services limited at an online mental health training webinar for media practitioners in commemoration of WSPD 2020.
Copycat suicide often called the Werther effect, is an imitative suicidal behaviour that occurs after exposure to another suicide. Especially, exposures to media reports of a celebrity’s suicide exert a considerable copycat effect on at-risk individuals.
Kardiri stated that the impact of the media on suicidal behaviour seems to be most likely when a method of suicide is specified especially when presented in detail when the story is reported or portrayed dramatically and prominently.
“Following this year’s theme 2020 “working together to prevent suicide”, in reporting avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide, or presents it as a solution to problems -don’t romanticize the death,” she cautioned.
She continued: “Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide and avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide.”
“The cause-and-effect relationship between media and suicide is not simple to prove, other factors (psychological and social) may be present in suicidal behavior but the media has a responsibility to apply ethical guidelines to prevent suicide and help vulnerable people.
“We implore the media to take into consideration the guidelines listed above, as they play their own role in suicide prevention,” Kardiri advised.
World Suicide Prevention Day is an awareness day that is observed on September 10. This day is aimed to provide commitment and action to prevent suicide all over the world through various activities. It also helps to raise awareness amongst people to protect their loved ones from suicide and help them deal with mental disorders.
According to Kardiri, there are specific guidelines that are highly recommended to reduce the rate of copycat suicides by the World Health Organization (WHO).
She added that media could do better on suicide reporting by providing accurate information about where to seek help and educating the public about the facts of suicide and suicide prevention, without spreading myths.
“Report stories of how to cope with life stressors or suicidal thoughts, and how to get help. Suicidal people are not psychotic or insane because extreme distress and emotional pain are not always signs of mental illness,” said Kardiri.
In definition, facts, figures, and symptoms to look out for on suicide, Esther Omisola, a clinical psychologist at Pinnacle Medical Services Limited, said that suicide is a human issue, noting that when we start to look at it as such, it opens the door for better conversations and the normalisation of treatment in society.
According to her, Suicide or suicidal behavior is the act of killing oneself, most often as a result of depression or mental illness or medical illness and it is an intentional Self- inflicted act that results in death.
“Suicide is the result of a convergence of risk factors including but not limited to genetic, psychological, social, and cultural risk factors, sometimes combined with experiences of trauma and loss. It can affect anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, gender, and age. No-one is immune.
“We cannot predict who will commit suicide, which is why it is important for us to be able to identify and determine possible indicators that will help us in the prevention of suicide,” said Omisola.
However, data from WHO shows that over 800,000 people die by suicide annually, representing 1 person every 40 seconds and suicide is the 15th leading cause of death globally, accounting for 1.4% of all deaths which are equivalent to 11.4 per 100000 population.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in people aged 15-24 in many European countries. In Nigeria, it’s the 3rd leading cause of death, while globally suicide rates among this age group are higher in males than females.
Self-harm largely occurs among older adolescents (15-19), and globally is the 2nd leading cause of death for older adolescent girls.
In proffering more solutions, Opemipo Olufowobi, a psychotherapist observed that people are often reluctant to intervene when they are worried about others. She noted that it is important to know that people in distress are often not looking for specific advice, but merely to be listened to with compassion and empathy.
She added that people with lived experience of suicidal behaviour or suicide bereavement have a lot to teach us. By listening to these often inspiring individuals we are learning and they may become empowered to seek help.
“For coping with suicidal thoughts, try not to think about the future – just focus on getting through today, make a plan. Resist taking drugs and alcohol, especially if you are alone, be around other people and do something you usually enjoy, no matter how small,” Olufowobi advised.