With a heightened visibility of young people committing suicide in the media, we need to be able to talk about these tragedies without causing more youth attempting to take their own lives. We walk a fine line between bringing awareness to severe problems happening in our society and running the risk of causing suicide contagion. Suicide contagion is the increase of deaths by suicide because of certain kinds of public visibility about suicide.
In simplified terms; when someone is already at a low point in mental health and contemplating whether or not to attempt suicide, their risk may go up when they see other suicide in the media. They may see this boost in media publicity as “fame,” and feel that suicide is a way to give their life meaning.
It’s natural to want to bring awareness to a tragedy like this, and to use this young person’s death as a way to create change for future youth. But there is a responsible way to do this.
As much as I love Lady Gaga, I’m going to use her as an example of what NOT to do. After the announcement of the most recent youth suicide Gaga made a few mistakes. She used the person’s name, age, related the death to bullying (which we will get to in a minute), and linked to his YouTube video. If you are a young person contemplating suicide and you see LADY GAGA, arguably one of the most famous people in pop culture, talking about this person, you might think, “Wow! If I complete suicide, Lady Gaga will talk about me and care about me.”
See where I’m getting with this?
Combine Lady Gaga’s tweets with countless numbers of front page articles, prime time news stories, blog posts, Facebook statuses, et al. It drives a very unsafe message to youth. “If you take your life, everyone will know your name and care about you.”
Similarly, bullying should never be explained as the cause of suicide. Suicide can be a result of a person being depressed, feeling isolated or alone, facing rejection, or experiencing anxiety. The majority of those facing bullying do not contemplate suicide. Bullying may be one risk factor in a young persons life leading to this depression, but it is caused by multiple risk factors not just bullying alone. Similarly to the sentiment above, if a young person who is being bullied sees a news headline that reads “Bullied to Death,” they may equate the two and think that because they are being bullied the next step for them is suicide.
We all agree, bullying is bad. Not just bad, it’s horrible. No one should have to be forced to go to a school everyday where they are afraid or alone. Where people tell them that who they are is wrong or different. That they should die. But along with fighting bullying, we mustn’t that say it is solely to blame for LGBTQ related suicides.
Think about this: you have your family, friends, school or work, and your hopes and dreams. If your family is unsupportive and rejecting, you have your friends, work, and dreams to lean on. Now let’s say that your friends reject you, you can focus on your work and dreams. Finally your work fires you. You are left alone with your hopes and dreams. At this point of feeling completely alone your dreams may not be enough to help you out of your hard times and depression. (This idea is taken from a coming out exercise created at the University of Southern California)
- Read “Suicide Leads to Bullying Spotlight, Caution.”
- Check out The Trevor Project’s campaign for suicide prevention week
- Read this article on “How To Talk To a Suicidal Teen” by Jeffrey Fishberger
- Read “Reporting On Suicide” by American Association of Suicidology
If you or anyone you know is feeling isolated or alone,
call The Trevor Lifeline – 1-866-488-7386
Some simple DOs and DON’Ts taken from “Talking About Suicide and LGBTQ Populations” (created by GLAAD, The Trevor Project, GLSEN, Johnson Family Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Movement Advancement Project) Read the full guide here.
- DO emphasize individual and collective responsibility for supporting the well-being of LGBT people.
- DO encourage help-seeking by anyone contemplating suicide, and emphasize the availability of supportive resources.
- DO emphasize the importance of family support and acceptance.
- DON’T include details of a suicide death in titles or headlines.
- DON’T describe the method used in a suicide death.
- DON’T attribute death to experiences that occurred shortly before the person died.
- DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as a logical consequence of bullying, rejection, discrimination, etc.
- DON’T idealize suicide victims of create an aura of celebrity around them.
- DON’T use terms like “bullycide.”
- DON’T use words like “successful,” “unsuccessful” or “failed” when talking about suicide.