The throw-away media line “police said there were no suspicious circumstances” may be a thing of the past with today’s announcement of the Australian Press Council’s new guidelines for suicide reporting. These guidelines highlight that reporting of suicide can benefit the public.
It is a welcome and significant shift in the media reporting landscape. A couple of weeks ago, headspace ran a forum about breaking this silence. Called Its Time to Talk, the forum featured a group of panellists who gave their views on why we should begin to discuss the issue. You can view the footage here: http://www.youtube.com/headspaceAustralia#p/a
Using the hash tag #timetotalk, audience members tweeted from the forum and across Australia and began to trend in Melbourne and Sydney. It was clear this is an issue that matters and people want a space to discuss it. Social media seems to be this space.
People, particularly young people, are using social media as a place to discuss their likes, dislikes, views and issues and it’s time all of us took this medium more seriously. An article in yesterday’s Age newspaper said it was the rise of social media that spurred the changes in reporting guidelines.
Indeed people are discussing suicide in the user-content generated world of Twitter, Reddit and Facebook. Social media provides an outlet of self expression for many people, but when we get into things like tribute pages, we need to consider what the potential impact of social media is when it remains unfettered and free of the safeguards that exist in traditional media?
Don’t get me wrong. headspace is not advocating for tight controls to be bolted on to social media. This is a medium that promotes freedom of expression and views, and this is to be encouraged.
A loosening of the rules around media reporting of suicide represents an opportunity to better discuss the issue that plights so many young people and their families.
But more work needs to be done to research the impact of social networking sites. The Federal Government’s National Media Initiative, Mindframe, is looking into how we do such research. We need to invest time and resources into this so we can adequately understand the social media space and what it means for young people in relation to suicide.
In the meantime, organisations such as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have developed good information for young people who come across posts about suicide. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/national-suicide-prevention-lifeline-1-800-273-talk/how-do-i-help-someone-who-has-posted-suicidal-content-on-facebook-or-another-soc/10150115312518404
The Samaritans in the UK has developed a relationship with Facebook whereby concerned people can report specific content, such as status updates or wall posts via Facebook’s Help Centre. http://www.samaritans.org/media_centre/latest_press_releases/samaritans_and_facebook.aspx
Here in Australia, Lifeline is working with Facebook to ensure the appropriate helplines appear if ever someone posts something relating to suicide.
There are things we can be doing to better support people online. Media guidelines are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s now time to move in to the online world. Yes, it’s a bit daunting and a bit unknown, but there’s no denying – it’s very real to the thousands of young Australians using it.