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)

 

 

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.

 

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18 Responses to How to Talk About LGBT Suicide in the Media

  1. Charleen Powell says:

    Excellent artical. we are starting a project here in British Columbia CANADA called “Let Talk About It” speak up, speak out
    Our mission is to take the silence out of suicide for both those who have or had thoughts of suicide and also those who have been impacted by the loss of a loved one to suicide. We have to take the shame of talking about it both before and after.
    Thank you for your work
    Charleen

  2. wanda partin says:

    suicide dont do it theres all ways some one out there that loves you and thinks your very special even if you think theres not they are.comeing out ant easy i know.it was hard for me but i did and i though my life would be over but it wasnt. dont put your self down allways keep your head up and say hey its my life not yours and i am going to be ok.just belive in your self even if no one els dose.life its a gret thing live it and love it.

  3. Andrew says:

    I, too, think this is a great piece; very informative. However, while I partially agree with your message as it relates to the ‘over-mentioning’ of bullying as a cause for suicide, I don’t think we should in any way dissuade the media from reporting on the issue of bullying as a whole. I know you’re not necessarily suggesting that, but I guess if I were to have my choice between whether the media reports on bullying as a cause of suicide vs not mentioning it for fear of ‘suicide contagion’ taking root, I’d rather take my chances with the media reporting on bullying as a cause of suicide. Why? Because, as much as I see the potential of suicide contagion being an issue, the ‘current’ (and larger) issue as it relates to suicide is bullying, and I think we need to take care of what’s in front of us now vs what might be in front of us in the future. Just my own personal opinion. Still, great article and thanks for writing it.

    • Stevie says:

      Thanks for writing Andrew. I don’t mean to say that anyone shouldn’t report on the risks of bullying and how they can relate to suicide. But there is a way to do it that does not say that bullying is the direct or only cause of any death by suicide. The problems that youth are facing are huge and should not go unnoticed or unreported, but there is a responsible way to do it and say it.

      I wish I could take credit for any of the ideas above, but they were created and built upon by many of the thought leaders and top organizations on the topic. The fact is that people can and are going to report how ever they see fit. Sometimes news outlets use the news of death by suicide, not as a way to create change in society, but to bring in ratings. The exploitation of these deaths is what really hurts me. Headlines like “BULLIED TO DEATH” and “Bullycide!,” sound really exciting, thought invoking, and bring in readers. In the end, there is freedom of speech, and people are going to report how they wish.

      My hope is that this article can be food for thought, and maybe help people rethink some of the phrasing they use when talking about deaths by suicide in youth.

  4. Ken says:

    This is a false accusation and a very twisted interpretation of how a gay teenager reaches the point of committing suicide. Please stop spreading this bullshit with no proof and no evidence. Lady Gaga is not the first to do this and no gay teen as ever went on and killed themselves because they thought they would get attention. That is something completely different and unrelated to being gay.

  5. Kev C says:

    “Suicide Contagion” is an unproved assertion proposed by anti-gay opponents. A way to shut down the reporting and conversation of gay suicides. This article plays into this type of fear mongering. If someone cites suicide contagion as a factor, they should prove it first, because it’s just fear mongering to shut down reporting.

  6. Logan says:

    I’m more concerned with the fact they you posted a video of the performance you are bothered by, and tweets in regards to the whole situation, its like you are condemning it and perpetuating it at the same time…

  7. Eric says:

    So you suggest that we not be open and honest about what really happened? If someone is going to kill themselves to get Lady GaGa to talk about them then they have much deeper problems than bullying.

    • Jon says:

      I don’t think Stevie was suggesting to hold back from honesty. If anything, sure, these kids are dealing with other internal factors but I agree on the front that addressing the teens information could do more harm than good, in some cases.

      Who is to say what a teenager is to do? Hell, I had a difficult time making outfit selections in the morning, let alone where I decided to eat, among other things. The process of the American teenager is a mystery. I think Stevie (along with The Trevor Project) are raising a valid concern.

  8. [...] Some are saying that bullying rarely causes suicide. Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed European Debt Crisis [...]

  9. Jason says:

    Are you a doctor? Or a therapist?

    I understand you took most of this from the Release from GLAAD and other organizations, but I think the issue here goes beyond just suicide of young LGBT youth; the constant bullying of all LGBT persons by many people including churches and politicians creates an atmosphere where many LGBT youth feel there is no other way out. This must be addressed and the only way to maybe get such powerful leaders to change their ways is by showing them what their actions are causing.

    Of course someone doesn’t usually just contemplate suicide for just one reason but this bullying epidemic is real, and it can be the catalyst to the actual suicide. Lady Gaga did not do anything wrong by showing his picture or mentioning his name; According to the CDC it is best to “avoid the use of dramatic photographs related to the suicide (e.g., photographs of the funeral, the deceased person’s bedroom, and the site of the suicide)” (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm). Also it is important that she didn’t talk about how he committed suicide, maybe Lady Gaga should get some more information about how to proceed with her fight against bullying but her actions were correct and justified especially when she watched the video of a teen who was inspired by her and helped by her music’s message even though it wasn’t enough.

    Lady Gaga’s goal as well as everyone in LGBT community should be combat bullying, not just in schools but bullying by those in the public positions, the republican party booing the service of a gay solider, or the constant fight for marriage equality, or the many other things going on, the continued degradation of LGBT people in this country (and world) tells the youth it doesn’t get better and unfortunately seems to be taking its toll. It has been reported many times that LGBT youth are 2-3times more likely to commit suicide and the only way that changes is if the atmosphere for LBGT people changes.

    Adolescent Sexual Orientation and Suicide Risk: Evidence From a National Study. American Journal of Public Health. (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/full/91/8/1276?view=long&pmid=11499118)

  10. Ryan says:

    To tackle a problem as massive as bullying and teen suicide, we need to look at it from two perspectives. There’s the personal perspective — dealing with each at risk kid on a case by case basis — and then there’s the community and public perspective, in effect, fostering the public awareness to ensure people know this is a problem and to demand something be done about it.

    If we de-personalize suicides, stripping away who these kids were after their death for fear that some at-risk youths may see this as an opportunity to gain attention, we run the risk of putting the whole issue into the closet and maintaining the status quo. That may help an individual child here or there, but it’s not going to help the issue as a whole.

    We need the public to rally around the issue, because that’s the only way we can effect change. That’s the only way a kid can feel comfortable to join a team, knowing they won’t be hazed or harassed off of it. That’s the only way kids will feel safe going to school, when today in most schools bullies can run amok consequence-free.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the Trevor Project would look at things from the smaller, personal perspective. They’re trained to deal with things on an individual basis, less so in how to move major public policy issues through communities and, indeed, entire states or federal governments.

    Furthermore, the concerns of the Trevor Project are, in many ways, valid — but the methods they argue should be used are the wrong ones. If schools are looking at each and every student to assess who’s at risk and intervene early, that Lady Gaga talks about a tragic case to raise the issue will not raise risks. We need people like her out there dealing with this issue in a very public way, personalizing it so people will care and minds will be changed. But we also need schools scouting out every student and dealing with any problems that arise or changes in student behavior immediately so as to catch things before they turn tragic.

    That’s the way of dealing with many of the “DON’Ts” here, while still being able to get all the positives out of raising these issues in a very public and personal way — and that’s what every school system and school ought to be doing anyway. It’s not just the responsibility of teachers to teach or administrators to administer. It’s their responsibility to foster positive and safe environments where each and every student feels welcomed to be there, where they aren’t overwhelmed, and where they can receive support when they need it.

  11. Benjamin says:

    I totally disagree with this point of view. Lady Gaga is a fierce LGBT advocate! Furthermore she is using her status to bring awareness to yet another tragedy befalling our community. There is nothing glamorous about suicide, period.

  12. Pavio C. says:

    As someone that is dealing with suicidal thoughts and young (well, not as young as the people this article discusses), I have to say this article is completely true in many respects.

    And for those people who decry the fact that he isn’t qualified: my psychologist and psychiatrist both discussed suicide contagion, but in different terms. This is not a made-up thing, to deny it is dangerous.

    Whether it’s real or not is kinda arbitrary. Do you want to take that risk when it comes to people’s lives? I would trust people more qualified. They do and have helped me.

    Bullying should still be discussed, but it IS true that bullying is not the ONLY cause of suicide. To say that is grossly simplifying the situation. It is a result of multiple factors. In fact, to say bullying is the only cause of death is a kinda insult. Bullying is just one of the major factors that is involved.

  13. Meg Ten Eyck says:

    As for the bullying issue, what Stevie is saying is correct. Bullying does not cause suicide. Bullying can be one of many different contributing factors to a greater risk for suicide but that does not show causation. Note the difference between correlation and causation. Suicide is a very complex issue that cannot be narrowed down to causation. Systems theory shows that an individual is continuously connected the systems in which they exist. So in this example, a young person is connected to the systems in which they belong. Check out this picture for a visual representation. Imagine with me that a young gay person is in the center of a circle with ropes connecting them to the different groups they belong to. One rope for their soccer team, one for their friends, one for the debate club, one for their school, one for their town, one for their state, one for their racial/ethnic group, one for the gender, one for their sexual identity, so on and so forth. If one of these groups pulls on one side of the circle, the lines will become tight and strain in one direction, but the young person is unlikely to fall, it is when many groups create a strain on the circle that a young person has negative mental health outcomes. If only one group is creating a strain, the young person has their other identities to fall back on as a support system. Bullying does not cause suicide, heternormativity and homophobia lead to negative mental health outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, and sometimes homelessness. When these things happen, suicide can be used as a negative coping mechanism for some young people. It is also important to note that 90% of suicide victims have a history of major mental illness.
    Okay, just to get my professional credentials out of the way, I have served as both the East Coast Education Manager and the National Education Manager at the Trevor Project, developed a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth issues, worked as a program coordinator for an LGBTQ Youth Center, and am currently working for The City University of New York and Harvard University on a research study regarding LGBTQ youth risk behaviors. I have three degrees two bachelors in social work and research methodologies and a master’s degree in public policy. I contributed to the piece that Stevie is referencing in this article from Trevor and the Movement Advancement Project and would love to add some insight into this conversation.
    First, I would like to link you to a few scholarly journal articles
    Marsden, P. (2001). Is Suicide Contagious? A Case Study in Applied Memetics. Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 5(1), N.Pag. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
    Romer, D., Jamieson, P. E., & Jamieson, K. H. (2006). Are News Reports of Suicide Contagious? A Stringent Test in Six U.S. Cities. Journal of Communication, 56(2), 253-270. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00018.x
    Hanssens, L. (2011). “Suicide (Echo) Clusters” — Are They Socially Determined, the Result of a Pre-existing Vulnerability in Indigenous Communities in the Northern Territory and How Can We Contain Cluster Suicides?. Aboriginal & Islander Health Worker Journal, 35(1), 14-19. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
    These articles show the existence of suicide contagion in both American case studies and international communities.

  14. Stevie says:

    Check out this article that spotlights some opinions on this subject also – Suicide leads to Bullying Spotlight, Caution

  15. Keith Bailey says:

    I have to agree with many of the points you made, but we can’t forget that bullying is bigger than just a GLBT issue. All children need to be protected against bullying we need stronger laws, and more public awareness of the problem. Suicide is the most public and tragic end for some, but there are those who have a death of spirit. Those who never accomplish all they might have. I have always believed in “Love over Hate”, I plan to use those words to raise money and awareness to stop bullying of all kinds in our schools.
    Thanks Stevie for speaking out about such an important issue, and providing a mature and practicle way for others to handle such a delicate issue.

  16. [...] observations that are helpful for anyone who cares for those vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. From How To Talk About LGBT Suicide In The Media: With a heightened visibility of young people committing suicide in the media, we need to be able [...]

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