SBS Insight: Talking About Suicide

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.

8 thoughts on “SBS Insight: Talking About Suicide

  1. Sounds like it was an interesting TV show.

    With regards the whole “teenagers doing it on a whim” thing – there’s two issues there. I quite agree with you, I find it impossible to believe that anyone, no matter their age would do it for such reasons, if they’d never thought about it before, didn’t have other problems etc. So-called “normal” people, in my experience don’t tend to think about self-extinction much at all.

    But there are some people who seem to struggle with the idea of its permanence. I guess it’s perfectly human to partially feel you’re immortal – that’s part of the health-beliefs model, and not only explains why it’s so hard to get some people to quit smoking (no cigarette has ever killed them, yet); as well as why people manage to have “dangerous” hobbies such as motor racing, paragliding etc – if you thought you might actually die, you wouldn’t do it, you have to believe that it “won’t happen to me.”. You do occasionally see that within people who’ve tried to kill themselves, they’ve not only planned their funerals, but also how upset and forgiving everyone is, and there just seems to be a lack of recognition that they wouldn’t be around to experience it – although how that actually works, or if it’s based on an actual belief that they’ll continue after death (let’s not forget that isn’t an uncommon idea within religion either) I can’t really answer. Just find it interesting. Actually I remember being very confused by a duty-psych once because she asked about what my plans for my funeral would be, and my answer “why would I care? It’s not like I’m going to be alive to see it” ; in hindsight I realised how much that freaked her out. I think she thought I was just threatening to upset people though… until I said that. But that in itself says more about mh pros’ attittudes than the people who attempt suicide.

    Anyway it’s certainly given me something to think about. Out of interest, wondering what the two commercials from UK and Israel were actually like. I must admit I’ve never known any here in the UK.

    Take care,

    • You raise some interesting points regarding smokers and people who engage in dangerous hobbies. I still find it a bit puzzling though as there are other motives in that, the main objective isn’t to die, but if someone is trying to kill themselves, isn’t the objective to die?

      This is the UK one that was shown:

      Israeli one:

      I’ll edit it into my post too. x

    • I agree, in that I don’t really think that most people – especially males – understand how permanent suicide is.
      Of course there is an understanding that once you die, that’s it, but I wonder how many suicide attempts are actually legitimately “I want to die and never come back”?
      I’ve attempted it, and now I’m glad I’m still alive, and it didn’t work out.
      My uncle hanged himself last year, and due to the circumstances surrounding it, we’re pretty sure it was a “I’ll show you” moment to his ex wife. Especially because it was a hanging, and generally, people don’t understand how quick that actually is – you don’t get time to be ‘saved’ and if you are cut down, you’ll most likely be braindead.

      There needs to be more awareness definitely, and I’m such an advocate for it being discussed more to not be such a ‘taboo’ topic.

      I missed the show because I didn’t have a tv, but I’m thinking I might stream it when I get home.

      Take Care

  2. I found the ads for prevention particularly powerful.

    I believe you are very right in saying that a lot of people who face suicide as an option aren’t focussed on the grief that they will cause. I, too, and more focussed on the fact that I feel like shit and need a way out. It’s about me, not anyone else. I don’t even consider the effect on them because I feel the same – it doesn’t matter. Even if I did stop to think about it, it’s just another thing to add to the burden of being alive. I’m alive for their well being, but what about mine?

    Very good post BtF.

  3. I agree. I find, though, that it seems to be a very complicated issue maybe because people are so secretive about it. For the most part I believe people try suicide from a place of pain, any kind of pain. I have never seen suicide prevention ads here in the province I live in but lately there have been a lot of ads sponsored by mental health featuring teachers and such approaching youth and asking if they would like to talk. Indirect suicide prevention ads? I live in a small rural community with a very high suicide rate so I couldn’t agree with you more, we do need to talk openly about it.

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