This article discusses and/or reports on the topic of suicide. If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the friendly team at Embrace by calling 1564.
The media in all its forms has become such an integral part of our daily life that the world would not be the same without it. The influence that the various forms of media practice today is very powerful and has a profound impact on people’s daily lives.
The Lebanese have been living under immense pressure lately, due to factors related to the recent economic, political, and social difficulties they’ve been forced to face. Tragically, a few cases of death by suicide were reported in the country in the past week.
What’s extremely important to point out and understand is the proven fact that suicide cases, if irresponsibly handled by media outlets and influencers, can and do become contagious and are likely to lead to more deaths.
The sensationalization of suicidal behavior can have very negative effects on some people. Suicide is a very delicate subject that must be covered with excessive care. Evidence of the influence of media on suicidal behavior has been shown in reports of actual suicides.
The cases that recently and successively emerged in Lebanon have been at times very badly handled by some Lebanese media outlets. This issue must be addressed and awareness must be spread in this regard to help put an end to the serious problem of suicide contagion.
Because suicide is a sensitive topic, it is necessary to follow certain guidelines when covering its stories. In general, details, images, videos, and in-depth descriptions of the scene of a suicide case are to be avoided at all costs.
This is because such details are highly likely to have a strong, negative emotional impact on people who may be prone to suicidal behavior. Therefore, people are also strongly discouraged to share such materials on their social media.
Avoiding the intricate details does not necessarily strip the coverage of its objectivity while greatly decreases the risk of sending a wrong message to the vulnerable.
The coverage of a death by suicide case is most likely to trigger a negative emotional reaction when:
The method used in the reported case of suicide is described, especially when presented in detail.
When the story is dramatically portrayed, with a triggering headline accompanying photos of the deceased.
The act is popularized and portrayed as a proper reaction accompanied by statistics containing high numbers of reported suicide cases, which may send a message of normality.
The oversimplification of the act and attributing it to a single factor (living in a difficult financial state, getting fired from work, etc…), when the biggest cause (90%) of suicide is mental illness.
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The following is an example of harmful coverage: This week, after the few cases of suicide took place in Lebanon, Clinical Psychologist Mia Atwi, the Cofounder and Vice President of Embrace Lebanon, was invited to Al-Jadeed to give her insight on the situation and share her expert opinion with the public.
During the second half of the interview, she had just begun addressing the influence that the media can have on suicidal people when the discussion was (unintentionally) intercepted with a just-received video of a person attempting to kill himself.
Atwi was taken by surprise after viewing the aired video and told the unaware presenters that had she known what the video contained, she would have advised against its presentation.
She said that presenting and sharing such photos and videos trigger a negative reaction and encourage suicidal viewers to attempt the method being used in them. She continued saying that a major factor for the successiveness of the recent cases in Lebanon is the wrongful coverage of them by the media.
When asked whether or not shedding light on the families of the deceased and creating fundraisers to support them is advisable, Mia Atwi reemphasized the dangers of publicizing suicide. She recommended keeping the fundraisers fairly private and not to have the media focus too much on them.
When covering suicide stories, media outlets should emphasize the significance of mental health problems and, when possible, urge people who may be experiencing negative/suicidal thoughts to seek professional help to treat themselves.
Possibly the most influential approach to the problem of media and suicide will be through ensuring that training courses for careers in the media pay adequate attention to this important topic.
Inappropriate media portrayal and reporting of suicidal behavior should be immediately highlighted. This should encourage producers and editors to remain aware of their potentially influential role in possible future suicide cases.