Yesterday the world received the sad news that Robin Williams had taken his own life after struggling with addiction and depression for many years.
Despite its prevalence, depression is still a much misunderstood illness and mental health organisations, along with their supporters, fight hard to ensure it has parity of esteem with physical health conditions.
As ever, the media have a huge role to play in shaping public attitudes towards mental health, as well as a responsibility to report on suicide in a way that is neither glorifying nor triggering for the millions of people around the world who are struggling.
The first tweet I saw about Robin’s death was the beginning of what I knew would be a shameful few days of irresponsible messaging which can, ultimately, claim further lives.
This post by The Academy is intended to be a well meaning tribute to the star’s work as the Genie from Aladdin. It has been retweeted over 3000,000 times so far, as undoubtedly kind hearted people from all over social media continue to share it in Robin’s memory.
Despite its good intentions, what this post says is ‘when the pain gets too much, there is a way out.’ Wanting it all to stop is such a common feeling for people who are struggling with suicidal feelings and the media cannot continue to portray taking one’s own life as a peaceful solution to all-consuming depression. It isn’t peace, freedom or tranquility, it’s death – a permanent end to everything you are.
It’s dispiriting to have to talk about them but, as ever, the tabloids deliberately abused well established media guidelines on responsible reporting about suicide. If there’s one rule which everybody in the industry can’t help but know, it’s that you never ever mention methods. Doing so is akin to publishing an instruction manual to vulnerable people on the most effective way to end your life and leads to what researchers call ‘contagion’ or copycat deaths.
Particularly horrific examples include:
This is not ok and the Samaritans guidelines on responsible reporting are freely available for anybody who’s unsure, please do read and share them when you can.
Now that they’re out there, it’s not too late to make a complaint and help make sure these guidelines are followed. You might just save a life.