Opinion: We're still not talking about suicide enough

OPINION: If you are feeling depressed, it should be no different to feeling fluey.

When someone in the office feels a flu coming on, people are all too happy to offer advice on what has helped for them in the past, be it a herbal concoction or something that is medical - there is no taboo.

But it's not like that with mental health, and the way the topic is treated in the media is part of the problem.

New Zealand has laws on what the media can report on when it comes to covering a suicide. The important part in that sentence is the word "laws". Other developed countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada do not have laws, they have guidelines. In those countries, the media is left to make the call on what is genuinely newsworthy and of genuine interest to the public.

  • Media can’t call a death a suicide unless the Coroner has completed their investigation and states so, which can take months
  • Media cannot report on the method of suicide
  • And media cannot mention any detail (such as place of death) that might suggest the method or suspected method of suicide.

I recently produced a piece for The Project which explores this subject. Right from the get-go, we had an issue. Should we be doing this story? Is this what our viewers want to see as they are settling down for dinner after getting the kids go to bed?

And most importantly, will we be putting people's lives in danger by discussing suicide in any form?

That was the view in the past, that by even discussing suicide in the media you could incite copycat suicides. But I don't think that's true. You can talk about the subject in a safe and responsible way without putting lives at risk.

The New Zealand media have earned that responsibility, in my opinion. They should be given the right to self-moderate their own reporting of the subject without the threat of criminal charges.

If a child dies because of child abuse, the media report it, and that can and has generated some very important discussion about ways to help with the issue.

If somebody dies in a fire as a result of arson the media is not gagged on reporting this fact because of the fear of copycat fires. So why is it different for suicide reporting?

By openly discussing suicide and its causes we will save more lives than we will risk. Mental health, no matter how hard we have tried in the past, will not shake the stigma that it has otherwise.

Learning how to deal with stress, anxiety and depression need to be tools that we all carry in our back pocket. Recognising when you need help - and asking for that help - should be number one on the lesson plan.

With the laws still in place around the media's reporting of suicide we are not going to get the desperately needed discussion to get our suicide rate down, we just aren't. This needs to change.

How the media reports on suicide is never going to be a straightforward subject to discuss. It never has been, but that is part of the problem.

If you feel you need help dealing with depression or a difficult time in your life, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). Both are available 24/7. 

Jeremy Lawry is a producer on The Project.

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