There are many road campaigns encouraging us to slow down and refrain from driving when tired or affected by alcohol. ‘Drop 5, save lives,’ ‘Don’t drink and drive,’ ‘Distracted drivers are dangerous drivers’ are a few of the slogans that come to mind. Why do they pop into my head so easily? Because of the frequency it’s broadcasted on television and radio. Which is great, a reduction of the road toll would be a wonderful outcome. What about suicide though? It claims more lives than road accidents. Yet when I try to think of just one ad campaign targeting the suicide rate, none come to mind.
At current there are certain rules and regulations governing any discussion of suicide in the media. There is a reason for this; the risk of ‘copycat suicides,’ the fear that portrayal of suicide methods may generate ideas and some viewers may find it upsetting. What’s the risk of not talking about it though?
This was the topic of discussion on SBS Insight last week, Talking Suicide. Those interested who live in Australia can view it online here or alternatively read the transcript here.
I think most within the discussion agreed that we do need make suicide a less of a taboo subject and there needs to be awareness surrounding the issue. Doing so in a sensitive manner which fits the guidelines and doesn’t ‘promote’ suicide is the tough part. Professor Pat McGorry raises a good point though- those who are suicidal can seek out material discussing suicide online quite easily and there are no guidelines governing what is posted in the virtual world.
There were two sample suicide prevention ads shown, one from the UK, one from Israel, and the audience were invited to discuss. One woman in the audience commented, “Very strongly I feel that if you want to create an ad regarding prevention of suicide, it should be completely highlighting the victims of suicide, that is people who are left behind because their agony is something which will prevent a person from committing suicide.” John Brogden, the National Patron for Lifeline and a suicide attempt survivor himself, disagreed with this idea. Drawing on his own experiences, he said that one of the reasons he wanted to take his life was the shame he felt he had put his family through, and that thought that they would be better off without him. I’m also one who disagrees with the woman’s views, that an advertisement portraying the devastation of the people left behind will prevent me from attempting suicide. When I’m in the depths of depression, family and friends don’t really come into the equation. I believe that no one cares, no one would notice if I died. I’m so absorbed within my own pain and wanting to end the agony that I don’t even think I may end up passing on the pain to those around me. Or maybe I’m just selfish?
One point made by the Magistrate State Coroner which I found a bit dubious was the comment that some teenage boys will complete suicide in a moment of teenage angst. The exact quote was, “The one that I really get most upset about, and I’m sure, nothing’s worse than anything else if you’re involved I suppose, but teenage people, especially boys who I actually think don’t understand that they’re mortal. And I think often they will say ‘Well I’ll teach you mum,’ because mum just said you can’t go down and play soccer before dinner or whatever, and so within a few minutes, without having thought about it much, they go up to their bedrooms and hang themselves. My feeling is, and I’ve talked with mental health nurses about that, that they actually don’t realise it is forever. There’s this moment of teenage angst [...]” I find it hard to get my head around the idea that these teenagers don’t realise that they can die if they try to kill themselves and that they do so just because their parents restricted them from going to play soccer. Surely if it drives someone to go kill themselves they already had deeper issues before they did the deed?
Breaking down the barriers and creating change is hard. But it can be done, and it has been done in the past. As said by John Brogden, “Forty years ago I’m sure that people would have been aghast if you suggested that we should suggest to women to get their breasts tested. How could you use that word in public? Now cricketers play cricket in pink once a year or whatever it is to promote that you know – how could you talk to men about testicular cancer or prostate cancer – oh my god – we are big enough and smart enough to deal with this now rather than find excuses and I don’t want us to find excuses to telling people who feel this way – there is a way to deal with it. That’s the message.”
The closing message I’d like to quote was also made by John Brogden. “One thing I want to make sure that people watching this show understand and I don’t think there is a person here who would disagree with one message from tonight… it’s that you’re better off talking about suicide than not.. I’ve met parents who say I wouldn’t know how to talk to my kid…. You’re better to talk about it than not talk about it as that will open them up… you’re not going to put the idea in their head and that’s a great worry that too many people have and I’d like to think that people will turn off the TV after this and think about talking to friends and family and this very important issue.” I couldn’t agree more. The time is now to talk about suicide.