The KrASIA team conducted an in-depth interview with a spokesperson from Samaritans Of Singapore (SOS). Below are our perspectives about responsible media reporting towards suicide prevention.
KrASIA (Kr): What is the media’s responsibility when it comes to discussing and sharing news of suicide?
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): Responsible media reporting of suicide plays an important and essential role in suicide prevention, as media portrayal of suicide greatly affect social attitudes and perception of suicide.
It is important to take utmost care in discussing issues relating to suicide, to balance being factual and being sensitive. When media reports are to be shared, it has to consider and prioritize minimizing the pain that may be inflicted on the loved ones left behind.
Past research also indicated that extensive sharing about details of a suicide do correlate with copycat suicides, especially when it is about a public figure. Sensationalized news, over-reporting, or even presentation that suicide is a way to solve problems should be avoided. Helpful information, such as highlighting that suicide is a preventable act and existing help resources, should be shared instead.
Kr: I read your media guidelines on the SOS website–thank you for publishing this. At what point did SOS realize that this guide was needed and why?
SOS: Samaritans of Singapore is a member of international communities that focus on suicide prevention. Take, for example the International Association of Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide.
As part of a larger community, there is more accessible flow of information sharing between agencies when it comes to best practices. Research do show that media portrayal play a role in how suicide is perceived in the community and that problematic reporting can do harm, which was the case years ago in Singapore. When suicide news can be on headlines and is heavily sensationalised.
Kr: On the SOS site, in context, it talks about replacing “committed suicide” with “death by suicide.” Can we discuss why it’s important to use certain verbiage?
SOS: It is known that language use can play a role in either perpetuating stigma, however, at the same time, words also have the power to do the opposite, to reduce stigma and encourage conversations instead. It is important to examine which type of language does the former and then reframe it to do the latter.
The phrase ‘commit suicide’, specifically ‘commit’ denotes an underlying, negative assumption that suicide is a wrongful and illegal act. Not only do the language stigmatise and discourage conversations about suicide, it points blame to the person in distress. As we move towards our efforts to prevent and provide support to those facing crisis, it is important to start more conversations about suicide in a safe and conducive manner. Selecting more neutral and compassionate words to describe the act, to describe it more factually rather than with emotion laden words, is part of our efforts to achieve our goal.
Kr: There is difficulty in keeping objective. How do we raise awareness of suicide of stats with details? At the same time, we do not want to treat these deaths as just numbers, but as people. When honoring those who passed, how do we ensure we are empathetic, but not romanticising it either?
SOS: Beyond just being a reporting figure, the annual suicide statistics also reveal the reality of struggles faced by ordinary Singaporeans. It is therefore encouraged that news reports and stories around suicide deaths shed light and insights into the various stressors and how these stressors are potential risk factors for suicide attempts.
To understand suicide and the work to destigmatise suicide and help-seeking, more conversations around the feelings of helplessness and being not able to cope with life stressors is needed. These conversations may encourage empathy among the community as they increases relatability, and foster understanding that suicide is not “just an easy way out” but instead the thought has been building on for a long time, to a point where the distressed party feels emotionally numb and at a loss.
THIS IS A COLLABORATION PROJECT BETWEEN KR Asia AND SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE TO PROVIDE OUR PERSPECTIVES ON SENSITIVE AND FACTUAL MEDIA REPORTING WHEN IT COMES TO SUICIDE.
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