Huffpost UK uk
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Scott Bryan Headshot

The Problem With Reporting Suicide

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

In a post I wrote in February this year I wrote about a Twitter friend who had taken his own life the previous day. I hadn't met him, I didn't know why he had taken his own life... I know it sounds odd to feel a connection with and write about somebody you had never met, but I felt at the time that it was appropriate to highlight the reasons why he was so popular and so loved by so many of his followers on here.

About five months later, the Daily Mail stumbled across his inquest.

What upset me wasn't that the circumstances of his death had been reported, it was the fact that they boiled down his entire life to a few headlines, a few sentences detailing factors that led to his death followed by explicit details of what happened his final moments. I don't want to go into detail about what the 'so called' reasons of his death that were reported, or what happened next, but it was heartbreaking to read.

In the way that it was reported, it was as if the rest of his life didn't really matter. It was like there were no other factors involved beforehand, no other stresses or situations, no other personal struggles he could have been dealing with that could have resulted in his final actions. It was his entire life, boiled down to a couple of actions. A quick shock and saddened read.

The Daily Mail also took a couple of quotes from my blog post praising his creativity and attached it to the bottom of the article. That's of course fine acceptable, I mean my words were in the public domain so they could have been lifted by anybody, but it felt in a way like I had authorised the article being published in the first place. Like I had endorsed the words and the story above, that it is was perfectly acceptable to talk about his life in this way. Even though I never met the man and he probably barely knew me. And they even spelt my name wrong in this article.

Anyway I digress... The reason why I am writing about that is because of this. A young nurse has apparently taken her own life, two days after an Australian radio station fooled her into thinking that she was speaking to members of the Royal Family on the phone. At the moment there is now a massive blame game developing about who was truly responsible, even though we don't know why she committed suicide.

That's the thing. We'll never know why she committed suicide. Yes, 2DayFM did something incredibly, utterly, grotesquely wrong and they should be fined, closed down or made to feel truly ashamed of themselves, but what is happening now is the same of what happened to this guy from February. This young woman's life is now going to be laid out in the press for days to come, her life summed up in a couple of sentences and associated with one act that led to her death. A great deal of people will only remember her because of that 'stunt' a couple of days before. Her whole life, all her achievements and successes and her life story, overshadowed, brushed aside to create a simple narrative.

Treat suicide sensitively. Give the topic some respect. We don't know why it happened, we won't know why it happened. Suicide is an incredibly personal, horrible, complicated thing. Give her personal family some space. And if you are from the press and you are writing about this topic in the next few days, treat her with some respect too.

Samaritans. Available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts. http://www.samaritans.org/